Andy Ross 2016-02-12
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When Michael Bloomberg was
sworn in as mayor of New York
in 2002, the city was burning.
But he turned it around.

Today America is burning. Our
government is dysfunctional,
national debt exceeds GDP,
infrastructure is crumbling,
schools are failing.

Bloomberg is considering a run
for the White House. He has a
good character and a proven
business record. He is the
right choice.

AR I'd vote for him.


2016 February 12


Lawrence M. Krauss

LIGO discovered gravitational waves emanating from the collision and merger of two massive black holes over a billion light-years away.

LIGO has two detectors, one in Washington State, the other in Louisiana, each with two tunnels about 4 km in length at right angles to each other. The experimenters shot a laser beam along each tunnel and timed how long it took to be reflected off a mirror at the far end. Gravitational waves rippled through the detectors at both locations roughly simultaneously, and at each location the length of one arm got smaller while the length of the other arm got longer, alternating back and forth.

To detect the signal the observers measured a periodic difference in length of less than an attometer. This is like measuring the distance between the Earth and the nearest star down to the width of a human hair. Even the motion in the position of each mirror due to quantum vibrations could have drowned the signal. But the scientists did it.

The two black holes that collided were big. One had about 36 times the mass of our sun, the other 29 times. The collision and merger produced a black hole of 62 solar masses. The extra 3 solar masses turned into energy as gravitational waves. For a moment, the collision generated more power than that from all the rest of the stars in the observable universe combined.

AR 1 solar mass = 2 billion exatons. So it was a 6 billion yottagram bang.

MPI for Gravitational Physics/Institute for Theoretical Physics, Frankfurt/Zuse Institute Berlin
Waves made by two black holes colliding

New Hampshire

Trump 35%
Kasich 16%
Cruz 12%
(92% of votes)

Sanders 60%
Clinton 38%
(93% of votes)
Love EU or leave EU
That is the question

Brazil Carnival


"Germany cannot afford a
Brexit ... An EU without
Britain would be poorer.
Geopolitically. Economically.
But most of all, spiritually."


"It's like being shot or poisoned.
I think you get the same result,
whether it's quick or takes a
long time."
Senator Lindsey Graham on
the presidential prospects of
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz

UK MoD will buy Zephyr
high-altitude endurance
drones from Airbus for
£10 million. Zephyr will be
"a persistent presence over
the battlefield and provide
intelligence at much greater
level of detail than was
previously possible".

"The European house is burning
down and Britain wants to waste
time rearranging the furniture."
German policymaker

New #1
Alphabet $547 billion
Apple $534 billion

Iowa Votes

Cruz 27.6%
Trump 24.3%
Rubio 23.1%

Clinton 49.9%
Sanders 49.6%

AR Thanks,



2016 February 11

Gravity Makes Waves


The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has detected ripples in spacetime from the merging of two black holes. One black hole had a mass of 29 suns, the other 36 suns, and each was around 150 km in diameter. The two collided at half the speed of light about 1.3 billion years (42 Ts) ago.

LIGO executive director David Reitze: "We have detected gravitational waves. We did it!"

Revolution in Physics

New Scientist

In a press conference today in Washington DC, the LIGO collaboration announced that they had finally detected gravitational waves. Details appear in Physical Review Letters.

The waves are predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity, which says that massive objects warp spacetime around them. When these objects accelerate, they make ripples in the fabric of spacetime that spread outward at the speed of light.

LIGO detectors based in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, felt the tremors last September at almost the same instant. Their sensors registered spacetime expanding and contracting by as much as 1 am. By translating the frequency of the gravitational waves into sound waves, you can hear the final signal as a chirp.

Kip Thorne: "The total power output of gravitational waves during the brief collision was 50 times greater than all of the power put out by all the of the stars in the universe put together."

Einstein was right. Now the era of gravitational wave astronomy is under way.

2016 February 10

The Military Balance 2016


2015 saw a surge in high-profile attacks by Islamist terrorists, plus continuing conflict and instability across the Mideast. Europe's ability to secure its borders came under increased scrutiny. Combating terrorism is a global issue. But the jihadists cannot be eradicated solely by military means.

NATO still aspires to boost collective self-defense. Deployment of a NATO spearhead formation to East Europe requires approval. For some of the security threats, improved partnership and better cooperation between NATO and the EU is important. The EU possesses a wide range of tools that NATO does not.

Mideast armed forces displayed growing military activism during the Yemen operation. Saudi Patriot missiles destroyed incoming Scuds fired from Yemen. Iran remained a principal threat driver for regional states.

Russia utilized advanced weaponry in its new Syria campaign. Much of its display of military prowess seemed aimed not only at degrading the capability of Assad's enemies but also at showcasing Russian high-tech military products for the West and potential customers.

China displayed more advanced military hardware at the 2015 Victory Day parade. Its 2015 White Paper emphasized the space and cyber domains, but also the maritime arena. Tensions escalated over accelerating construction activities on features in the South China Sea. There was an evident military aspect to these activities.

Washington looked to innovate and generate a new edge. The Pentagon created the Defense Information Unit to help it leverage lessons from Silicon Valley on issues like big data, analytics, autonomy, and robotics. The goal is to give policymakers the best possible military and security advice for each contingency, to complement and inform any possible use of their toolkit.

2016 February 9

Bungled UK Bid

Martin Wolf

David Cameron accepted the premise that the UK has a place only in a reformed EU. Since the union is fundamentally unreformed, the logic of his own position is exit.

Either it makes sense for the UK to stay in the EU as it is or it does not. The British do not feel they need the union to strengthen the legitimacy of their political institutions and they have no interest in joining the single currency. But 44% of UK exports go to the EU, against 17% to the US, and the political stability and prosperity of the continent is a vital British interest.

Eurosceptics say the EU has tied the UK economy in red tape. Yet OECD analyses show that the UK economy is among the least regulated of all its members. Many say the City of London is stifled by regulation. Yet the financial crisis suggests that the problem was more one of lax regulation than too much. Many complain of immigration from the EU. Yet most net immigration is from elsewhere. EU membership has not hindered UK prosperity. The main hindrances are home grown.

By participating in the EU, the UK has a voice in the affairs both of its neighbors and of the world. The UK needs a voice in Europe. Europe needs the UK to have that voice.

Bungled UK Bill

The Times

UK security services may soon be able to collect masses of personal data under sweeping new surveillance powers.

The pending Investigatory Powers Bill allows security services to collect large data sets across wide sections of the population. The parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which oversees the work of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, warns that the powers in the bill are excessive and recommends that individual warrants be required for each data request.

ISC chairman Dominic Grieve MP: "Even those working on the legislation have not always been clear as to what the provisions are intended to achieve."

2016 February 8


The New York Review of Books

Human brain scans show that moral judgment involves two distinct psychological processes. One is fast and intuitive, and occurs in areas of the brain associated with emotional processing. The other process is slow and rational, and occurs in regions associated with cognitive processing.

Primitive human beings evolved fast and focused brain responses for dealing with immediate dangers or threats. Humans in more sophisticated societies do not need the same kind of affective response and use slower processes of moral deliberation. The slower mechanisms came later.

Martin Seligman promotes the study of strengths and virtues in psychology. Faced with events that seem uncontrollable, human beings experience disruptions that give rise to a sense of helplessness. Seligman aims to stop people being seen as victims of their environment.

Jonathan Haidt identifies six basic pairs of moral intuitions: care vs harm, fairness vs cheating, loyalty vs betrayal, authority vs subversion, sanctity vs degradation, and liberty vs oppression. He says liberals are more disturbed by violence and suffering than conservatives and libertarians.

Steven Pinker stresses the role of rationality in fostering cooperation. He says our deliberative modes of evaluation should prevail over affective intuitions. Empathy has played a part in promoting altruism, but we should aim for policies and norms that make empathy unnecessary.

Paul Bloom says evolution has equipped us with rudimentary capacities that are essential to the development of morality, such as empathy and a sense of fairness. But our affective moral responses are essentially infantile. Reason lets us transcend them.

Seligman: "Psychology presently studies superficial morality and deep morality. Superficial morality can be found in the quick, unreflective moral intuitions that we have. Deep morality is the reflective choices we make that involve honesty, faith, humility, and ideals."

2016 February 7

EZ New Deal

Thomas Piketty

French President François Hollande has revived the idea of a new EZ parliament. Now France must make a proposal. Otherwise the agenda will be set by such countries as the UK and Poland.

The sudden plunge in EZ GDP from 2011 to 2013 resulted from attempts to cut deficits too quickly with tight budgetary rules. EZ GDP in 2015 has still not recovered to its 2007 levels.

The ESM allows a joint guarantee of all EZ sovereign debts. All public debts greater than 60% of GDP could go into a common fund, with no repayment until a country is on a growth trajectory. An EZ corporate tax could pay for infrastructure and universities.

An EZ parliament would draw members from the national parliaments, proportionate to population. France, Italy, and Spain have roughly half of EZ population and GDP, Germany just over a quarter.

AR Achtung, Sozialismus!

2016 February 6

Brexit: All Lose

The New York Times

The European Union is already battered by an economic crisis and an immigration crisis.

Brexit would deal the EU a serious blow and would affect UK ties to NATO and to the United States. The tide of refugees grows larger by the day. The newcomers join more than one million people who sought refuge in Europe last year. But if Britain pulls out of the union, it will have no more say on European migration policies and no right to help in policing the tunnel entrance in Calais.

Britain, other European nations, and the world need a united and prosperous Europe.

UK Role in Europe

Radek Sikorski

The British wanted to be reassured that they will never be treated as identikit Europeans. Now they are exempt from "ever closer union" among the peoples of Europe.

The issue of migrant workers affects Poles. David Cameron has to cut incentives for migrant workers from the EU to come to Britain. Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has to stick up for Poles abroad. Cameron needs to show that fewer migrants will be coming, and Poland wants its people to return.

The EU has helped. Rules for migrants already in Britain will continue as before, but newcomers might get fewer benefits and pay higher taxes. The Polish government can say British welfare and tax provisions will continue to be more favorable for a Pole coming to Britain than for a Brit seeking work in Poland.

The EU needs British leadership in foreign policy. It needs professional British diplomats and a more global outlook. Having lost one empire, the British can lead a new one.

The Selfish Gene

John Brockman

Forty years ago, Richard Dawkins changed our understanding of our place in nature with the publication of his book The Selfish Gene.

AR This book was decisive in setting the frame for my neo-Darwinist picture of emergent levels of self in the post-Hegelian dialectic of historical conceptions of divine providence in my book CORAL.

2016 February 5

Letter to the World

Greetings Earthlings,

As technology titans we have resisted explaining ourselves. But some people in Europe question our motives, our integrity, and even our right to skirt round the normal rules.

Recently we have faced impertinent questions over our tax planning and the structures of our companies. Some have even accused us of being no better than any other company. They refuse to accept our loftier values.

We are the visionaries, committed to building a better future. We are better placed to decide how our money should be spent than governments, which take billions from the taxpayer and waste them on social programs.

The Europeans are trying to tie us down with red tape and claim unpaid taxes. If they got the money, they would only waste it. We need to get these elected governments off our backs so that we can change the world.

We don't expect you to understand. Just be grateful for us.

Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, et al.

AR I sympathize.

2016 February 4

Russian View

Vladimir Putin

NATO promised not expand eastward after the fall of the Wall. NATO did not have to do so. All it needed was the political will. But the West wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union.

In 2009, US President Obama said that US missile defense only served as protection from Iranian nuclear missiles. But now there is an international treaty with Iran that bans Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. The sanctions against Iran are lifted, but still the Americans are working on their missile defense system.

I am the president of 146 million Russians. I have to represent their interests. The nationalist coup in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in February 2014 scared 2.5 million Russian people living in Crimea. Our soldiers prevented the Ukrainian troops on Crimea from impeding the freedom of expression of the people. In the referendum the majority of citizens voted for belonging to Russia. This is democracy. The reunification of Crimea and Russia is just.

Sanctions are harming Russia. But the biggest harm is currently caused by the dangerous revenue losses in our export of oil and gas. Last year, the GDP dropped by 3.8%. Inflation is about 12.7%. But the trade balance is still positive. We have more than $300 billion in gold reserves.

Russia would like to cooperate with NATO again. President Assad has done much wrong in Syria, but the conflict would never have become so big if it had not been fueled from outside with weapons, money, and fighters. We do not want Syria to end like Iraq or Libya. We should support the legitimate rulers in Syria. Only the Syrian people can decide who should govern the country.

AR Last night BBC2 war-gamed a Russian push into Latvia that ended in a nuclear exchange.

2016 February 3

Gene Genie

Johnjoe McFadden

The news that scientists are to be allowed to edit the DNA of human embryos will no doubt provoke warnings from opponents of genetic modification technology.

We are playing God with our genes. But it is a good thing because nature often gets it wrong. This research will lead to technologies that could edit DNA much like we edit text. Its implementation could reduce and even eliminate the birth of babies with severe genetic diseases.

Opponents say our DNA is special. But nature is just blind chance combined with the survival of the fittest. There is no reason why nature should not occasionally make mistakes. When those errors could lead to terrible human suffering, it is our duty to try to correct them.

Gene editing of human embryos to eliminate disease should be considered to be ethically the same as laser surgery to correct eye defects, or operating on a baby to repair a heart defect. DNA is just another bit of our body that might go wrong. Gene editing can benefit our children.

Ancient Atheists

Tom Holland

Atheism is at least as old as the monotheistic religions of Abraham. But the philosophers the ancients called atheoi were not like New Atheists. Epicurus accepted both gods and materialism as ways to attain the state of tranquillity that was the ultimate goal of life.

2016 February 2

European Union

Donald Tusk

A proposal for a new settlement of the UK within the EU goes far in addressing all the concerns raised by Prime Minister Cameron. The four baskets of the proposal:

1 On economic governance, the draft decision sets out principles to ensure mutual respect between the member states deepening the EMU and those which are not. A mechanism giving reassurances cannot constitute a veto nor delay urgent decisions.

2 On competitiveness, the draft decision will commit to increase efforts to enhance competitiveness. We will regularly assess progress in simplifying legislation and reducing red tape.

3 On sovereignty, the proposed decision recognizes that the UK is not committed to further political integration. It also reinforces respect for subsidiarity.

4 On social benefits and free movement, we need to respect the principles of freedom of movement and non-discrimination. The proposed solution to address the UK concerns builds on the clarified interpretation of current rules.

The clear objective is to have an agreement. To succeed we will all need to compromise. To fail would be compromising our common future.

American Trump

Spiegel Online

Donald Trump recently spoke about American football: "The whole game is all screwed up." He said he missed "what used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on tackle" and slammed his fists together. "Football has become soft like our country has become soft."

President Trump would stir up hatred against minorities and say political correctness is a threat to the nation. The 2008 financial crisis has left many Americans receptive to his pitch. The economy has recovered but inequality has grown. Many Americans feel disconnected and betrayed.

Racism has become a core element of his campaign. Last year he said he would "build a great, great wall on our southern border" and have Mexico pay for it. He also said he would deport all illegal immigrants. For his fans, the "great, great wall" has become a symbol of Fortress America.

Trump uses the term "the lying press" (Lügenpresse) at his appearances. Yet the big TV networks devote more airtime to him than to all his rivals combined. He is the only Republican candidate who gets them big ratings. He complains that journalists ask questions about his policies.

Republicans are divided. Newt Gingrich: "Donald Trump is a very talented man. America is a big country. Anything can happen."

2016 February 1

European Union: A Budget Thaw

The New York Times

Europe is fighting terrorism and shifting from the austerity that has dominated since 2010. EU member states are not abandoning fiscal discipline, but leaders are encouraging a more flexible approach to give them financial firepower to counter the growing threat.

French president François Hollande: "We need to track the terrorists, dismantle their networks, cut off their financing, and stop propaganda and radicalization. The security pact takes precedence over the stability pact."

European Union: A Better View

Andy Ross

Today a more urgent argument for staying in the EU is neither political nor economic but strategic. For now we need to view the place of European civilization in the world with concern ...
>>> (PDF, 2 pages)

Land Rover
End of the road for a British icon

Brian Aris
Ashes to Ashes
David Bowie wanted his
ashes to be scattered in a
Buddhist ceremony on Bali.
Most of his millions will go
to his wife Iman and his
kids Duncan and Lexi.

FFF Thinkers

All his adult life, Roger Scruton
has waged an intellectual war
against the academic left. In his
critique of the Frankfurt School
he sensed a Marxist conspiracy
to undermine the foundations
of Western civilization. He may
not contradict the thinkers he
reviews but he always critiques
their unsound methods, for
which he excoriates them
with extreme prejudice.

No Cow Ban

An EU bill to cap harmful
emissions faces opposition.
Agriculture causes 40% of
methane and 95% of ammonia
pollution in the EU, and the EC
wants big cuts in both by 2030.
MEPs voted for the cuts but
exempted enteric methane,
from cow burps.

"The implications of the UK not
being in the EU will be truly
devastating for Europe."
Deutsche Bank

AR I like it. Greeks can be
employed to run the refugee
camps, Germans can avoid
strife with migrants, and
Europe is saved.

Only then is it safe to hold
the UK referendum, assuming
Brits are not aiming to push
Europe into a nationalist
and racist abyss.

AR In short, if refugees
flood in, the UK exits, and
the EU and EZ break up:

1 Supply chains break,
unemployment soars.

2 Weak national
currencies crash.

3 German investments
in Europe suffer.

Nationalism returns,
Europe collapses,


ASASSN-15lh could have been
an exploding magnetar. When
a very massive star collapses
and explodes as a supernova,
the leftover star can become
a magnetar, with very fast
spin and a strong magnetic
field. This one could have
pumped energy into a big surrounding cloud of gas
until — BANG!

AR Blog 2016-01-15.

Big Brain

Terry Sejnowski and team made
a 3D model of a 10 μm cube of
a hippocampus, using data on
synapses from sliced rat brain.
"We discovered the key to
unlocking the design principle
for how hippocampal neurons
function with low energy but
high computation power. Our
new measurements of the
brain's memory capacity
increase conservative
estimates by a factor of ten
to at least a petabyte."

AR I reported on Terry at a
NYAS meeting in 2002.

The Holy Roman Empire
Peter Wilson

Germany was once part of the
Holy Roman Empire. Founded by
Charlemagne in 800 and swept
away by Napoleon in 1806, the
empire suggests an alternative
to a federalized EU or a fatally
weakened European mosaic
of nation states.

Karren Brady:
"UK businesses can create
more jobs in Europe than
out on their own."


2016 January 31

British Elitism

David Cameron

White British men from poor backgrounds are five times less likely to go into higher education than others. If you're a young black man, you're more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university. There are no black generals in our armed forces and just 4% of chief executives in the FTSE 100 are from ethnic minorities. And if you're black it seems you're more likely to be sentenced to custody for a crime than if you're white.

AR The British establishment is inbred.

English Elitism


Over a quarter of all working-age adults in England have low literacy or numeracy skills or both. A recent OECD survey shows that English adults performed around average for literacy but well below average for numeracy relative to other countries surveyed. Among the adults, English teenagers aged 16-19 have the worst literacy levels of developed nations and the second worst numeracy levels for their age group.

AR English education is elitist.


Niall Ferguson

Republican runner Donald Trump is in denial about America's — and his own — immigrant roots. His grandfather was Friedrich Drumpf, a German who emigrated in 1885, and his mother was born near Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.

AR Denial too in that comb-over.

2016 January 30

Nuclear Fusion

New Scientist

Heated to around 100 MK, hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium can fuse into helium at just a couple of times atmospheric pressure. Just 1 g of D-T fuel yields the thermal energy of over 6 Mg of oil. The hot plasma is confined using magnetic fields. But the containment is highly unstable, challenging fusion engineers for the past 50 years.

The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator (blog 2015-11-07) is designed to allow continuous stable operation: switch it on and it works. The aim is to build up to keeping it going for about half an hour (2 ks). If that succeeds, a bigger machine will produce 3 GW of heat and about 1 GW of electricity.

Tokamak Energy hopes to use new superconductors to build a spherical tokamak small enough to fit in a living room. The goal is to build a viable 180 MW reactor in 15 years, for a cost of around £2 billion. Heat flows in the reactor would be much higher than in Wendelstein 7-X, where they are already a fifth of the flux at the Sun's surface.

2016 January 29

Saving Europe

Philip Stephens

Angela Merkel wants to save Europe. She wants EU unity, but the leaders of Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia will never share her generosity toward Muslim refugees.

EU leaders must regain control. They need to separate refugees from economic migrants, to secure the Greek borders, to reward communities for settling refugees, and to counter crime.

Winston Churchill once said the public mood in regard to the treatment of criminals is an unfailing test of the civilization of a country. Substitute migrants for criminals.

Muslim Sexism

Der Spiegel

Since New Year's Eve in Cologne, about 800 women have filed complaints with the police. The migrant sex attacks raise big questions about gender and society.

German women experience the culture clash firsthand. They report men who refuse to shake hands with them, parents who don't want them teaching their child, and men refusing to work with them and demanding men for business dealings.

The history of Islam has been shaped by the patriarchal oppression of women. In predominantly Muslim regions, most Muslims do not think men and women have equal rights. They say a woman should always obey her husband.

The Cologne assaults were spurred by migrant overcrowding, their lack of prospects and family support, and a culture that makes all things sexual taboo.

2016 January 28

The US Hard Right

Garry Wills

Republican intransigence was not born yesterday. To be on the right is to feel perpetually betrayed. At a time when the right has commanding control of radio and television talk shows, it still feels persecuted by the mainstream media. With all its wealth, the right feels it is being undermined by the academy, where liberals lurk to brainwash its children.

The feeling that superior people have license to circumvent democracy is still with us. Strategic gerrymandering and restrictive voting procedures freeze out minorities, the young, and the elderly, giving Republicans stronger representation in Congress than the popular vote warrants.

The surge of Donald Trump for half a year at the top of Republican polls was mystifying to many people. They thought the lead would quickly evanesce, but the support was entirely political. Trump first became a political factor by claiming that Obama has no valid birth certificate. It turns out that a majority of Republicans have held that belief and never renounced it. Trump was giving voice to the growl of Republican orthodoxy.

No one wants to be guilty of compromise or looking soft. The right hated George H.W. Bush's plea for a "kinder and gentler" party kindling "a thousand points of light." They had no more kind or gentle feeling about George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" and his promise to "leave no child behind." They think that is Democrat talk. And they are right.

We Cause Climate Change


2015 was the hottest year on record. And 13 of the 15 hottest years in the last 150 years occurred between 2000 and 2014, a result researchers say was with 99.99% probability caused by humans.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research professor Stefan Rahmstorf: "Natural climate variations just can't explain the observed recent global heat records, but manmade global warming can."

The UN World Meteorological Organization confirms that the global average surface temperature in 2015 broke all previous records and says 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have all been since 2000. In 2013, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded with 95% certainty that humans are the main cause of global warming.

The UK Met Office expects 2016 to break the record set in 2015.

2016 January 27

Big Apple

Financial Times

Apple revenues for 2015 Q4 rose to $75.9 billion and net profits rose to $18.4 billion. Apple now has a total of 1 billion devices in "active" use, counting each iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Mac, and iPod Touch that connected to Apple cloud services in the past 90 days. The company has 115,000 employees and had a market capitalization in May 2015 of over $740 billion.

AR Apple paid £12 million tax in the UK in 2015.


Richard Feynman

At the same time that an understanding of the subject of electromagnetism was being developed, technical possibilities that defied the imagination of the people that came before were appearing: it became possible to signal by telegraph over long distances, and to talk to another person miles away without any connections between, and to run huge power systems — a great water wheel, connected by filaments over hundreds of miles to another engine that turns in response to the master wheel — many thousands of branching filaments — ten thousand engines in ten thousand places running the machines of industries and homes — all turning because of the knowledge of the laws of electromagnetism.

Today we are applying even more subtle effects. The electrical forces, enormous as they are, can also be very tiny, and we can control them and use them in very many ways. So delicate are our instruments that we can tell what a man is doing by the way he affects the electrons in a thin metal rod hundreds of miles away. All we need to do is to use the rod as an antenna for a television receiver!

From a long view of the history of mankind — seen from, say, ten thousand years from now — there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics.

Maxwell's Equations

A set of partial differential equations, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits. The equations underlie modern electrical and communications technologies. They describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated and changed by each other and by charges and currents. James Clerk Maxwell published his equations in an early form between 1861 and 1862.

AR Maxwell's genius was celebrated on BBC4 last night.

2016 January 26

Life and Death

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Death is not an event of life. Death is not lived through. If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present. Our life is endless in the way that our visual field is without limit.
— Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.4311

AR After a blissful evening skim-reading Foundation Mathematics, I half-awoke in the early hours and lay reflecting on how the contrast between open and closed sets representing intervals on the real line also caught the logic of immortality from the first-person perspective. On this topic, young Wittgenstein hit the nail on the head.

2016 January 25

Greek-German Deal?

Gideon Rachman

The euro crisis and the refugee crisis both involve Greece and Germany. Last summer, Germany almost forced Greece out of the euro, rather than lend further billions to the Greek government. Now, Germany is reeling under the impact of the arrival of more than a million would-be refugees, most of whom have entered the EU through Greece.

A deal would be simple. Greece seals its northern border with EU help, stopping the flow of migrants into northern Europe. In return, Germany agrees to a massive write-down of Greek debt, plus immediate financial aid. Refugees arriving in Greece are housed in camps on Greek islands in the expectation that they will return to Syria one day.

Bottling up refugees in Greece could strand them in a small country struggling with mass unemployment and a huge national debt. Germany wants its loans repaid, but the refugee crisis is more urgent than the repayment schedule. Greeks can do Germans a favor by stemming the flow of refugees. Germans can do Greeks a favor by offering debt relief.

Most Europeans feel compassion for the refugees but are also worried about uncontrolled mass immigration from the Mideast. We need to break the connection between the offer of temporary protection from warfare and the offer of permanent immigration into the EU. Once that connection is severed, European public opinion will be reassured.

2016 January 24

Wenn Europa scheitert

Henrik Müller

Politiker warnen vor einem Auseinanderbrechen der EU. Europa habe wenige Wochen, um die Flüchtlingskrise in den Griff zu bekommen. Falls das misslingt, sei dann das Schengen-Abkommen für grenzenlose Bewegungsfreiheit in Europa hinfällig. Dann aber macht der Euro keinen Sinn.

Weil es den Europäern an einer gemeinsamen Vision für eine gute Zukunft mangelt, spielen sich wieder Fragen von nationaler Souveränität und kultureller Selbstbehauptung in den Vordergrund.

Das Risiko steigt, dass Großbritannien dieses Jahr per Referendum aus der EU aussteigt - und dann womöglich andere Mitgliedstaaten folgen. Binnen weniger Monate würde die EU verfallen.

Drei Effekte würden sichtbar:

1 Zerrissene Wertschöpfungsketten: Die Industrie hat Europa in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten mit einem Netz von Zulieferverbindungen durchzogen, mit dem Ziel, jeweilige Standortvorteile auszunutzen. Bei einer Implosion Europas würde ein Teil solcher Wertschöpfungsketten durchbrochen. Sparprogramme, Werkschließungen und Jobverluste wären die fast zwangsläufige Folge.

2 Inflationsschock: Dass die Verbraucherpreise bislang stabil sind, liegt insbesondere am intensiven internationalen Wettbewerb. Weniger Wettbewerb bringt Preissteigerungen mit sich. Die Inflationsraten dürften deshalb empfindlich anziehen. Sofern auch die Währungsunion zerfällt, werden die Währungen kleinerer, schwächerer Volkswirtschaften abschmieren.

3 Schuldenkrisen: Am härtesten getroffen wären Volkswirtschaften, die ohnehin auf wackligem Fundament stehen. Länder wie Großbritannien, Frankreich, Rumänien oder Tschechien müssten sich darauf einstellen, dass der Kapitalzustrom abreißt. Hoch verschuldete Volkswirtschaften würden durch massiv steigende Zinsen an den Rand der Pleite geraten.

Auch Deutschland würde leiden. Die Bundesrepublik ist eine hochgradig offene Volkswirtschaft, die bislang eng mit dem übrigen Europa verwoben ist. Das gigantische Auslandsvermögen Deutschlands von mehr als einer Billion Euro ist zur Hälfte im übrigen Europa angelegt.

Zu den ökonomischen Schäden kommen die politischen. Die Rückkehr zur Nationalstaaterei könnten einen Zusammenbruch Europas bedeuten. Das hätte verheerende Folgen.


2016 January 23

The Struggle for Europe

Mark Mazower

The historic scale of the crisis facing the European Union is dawning on its elites. Both critics and supporters of integration talk in almost apocalyptic terms about the union and its future.

The union has become a fiscal regime enforced by constitutional lawyers and central bankers that consigns millions to permanent unemployment. Nationalist politicians resist it in the name of democracy. The union faces a deep crisis of legitimacy.

Europe awaits a change of heart among its elites. The past holds a big lesson: integration prospered when growth and employment mattered more than unfettered capital movements and when fiscal policy counted for more than monetary policy.

Leaders need to show that the union can help nations and that capitalism and democracy can be reconciled. This will take a real effort of historical imagination and reinvention.

The War for Islam

Vali Nasr

Islamists call for an ideal Islamic state built on Islamic law. But Shiites and Sunnis each have their own version of law. The rise of narrower and more extreme forms of Islamism have only exacerbated sectarianism.

Sunnis and Shiites coexist in many Arab states. Syria and Iraq were secular Baathist states, but minority Alawites ruled over largely Sunni Syria and minority Sunnis over largely Shiite Iraq. The American occupation of Iraq and the Arab Spring broke the Arab order. Shiites in Iraq and Bahrain, and Sunnis in Syria, welcomed change.

The collapse of the Arab order pits Iran and Saudi Arabia against one another. Saudi Arabia interpreted the nuclear agreement as an American tilt toward Iran. Sunnis have redoubled their efforts to block Shiite gains. Saudi Arabian foreign policy has become more confrontational since the Iran nuclear deal This does not bode well.

Iran and Saudi Arabia will clash in every war zone in the region to further their interests. Both countries face economic problems. Their energies are better spent on domestic reform than on regional confrontation.

2016 January 22

Germany Losing Control

Spiegel Online

Following the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, some 650 criminal complaints have been filed, half of them for sexual assault. State prosecutors have only identified 13 suspects: 8 Moroccans, 4 Algerians, and a Tunisian. No one has been detained for sexual assault.

Several thousand people from the Maghreb states Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are slated for immediate deportation from Germany. But only 23 Moroccans, 24 Algerians, and 6 Tunisians were deported during the first half of 2015.

German policymakers have spent the past few years both reducing the size of the police forces and inundating them with new tasks. No one was remotely prepared for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Last year, up to 10,000 newcomers a day had to be sheltered and fed. Officials were overwhelmed. A national register says a total of 1,091,894 asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015. But experts believe the real figure could be far lower because registrations can easily be duplicated.

Many new arrivals are simply waved into Germany by border officials. It often takes days before they are registered. In many places, refugees disappear soon after arrival. They can get duplicate social benefits without getting caught by registering in different states, perhaps using different names. Criminals can get papers for multiple identities.

For years, German officials have complained about countries that refuse to allow the return of their citizens facing deportation from Germany. These include the Maghreb states.

Islam: The Truth

Andrew Mack

Islamist radicals have no difficulty finding justification in medieval Islamic texts for their violent ideology and barbaric practices. But these extreme interpretations tell us nothing about the propensity for violence in mainstream Islam.

In almost all societies, murder accounts for most intentional killings. Between 2007 and 2012, for every individual killed in war or terrorism around the world, 7 individuals were murdered. And the higher the percentage of Muslims in a society, the lower the homicide rate.

Between 1994 and 2007, annual homicide rates in the Muslim world averaged 2.4 per 100,000 of the population. That was less than the average rate in Europe and about half that in the United States. Even now, for every murder in Indonesia, 7 people are murdered in the United States.

In the radical Islamist conflicts in the Mideast, exclusionary politics, state repression, rights abuses, corruption, and so on are more important drivers of violence than Islamist ideology.

2016 January 21


John Gray

Dominic Johnson: "Humans the world over find themselves, consciously or subconsciously, believing that we live in a just world or a moral universe, where people are supposed to get what they deserve. Our brains are wired such that we cannot help but search for meaning in the randomness of life."

The New Atheists are simple souls. In their view, which derives from rationalist philosophy and not from evolutionary theory, the human mind is a faculty that seeks an accurate representation of the world. This leaves them unable to explain why most human beings are wedded to some version of religion.

For anyone who takes evolution seriously, religions are adaptations to the experience of living in an uncertain and hazardous world. There is no way to square a rationalist model of the mind with the findings of evolutionary biology. Under evolution, our minds are not primed to seek out truth but to obey the ruling imperative of survival.

2016 January 20

European Union

George Soros

The European Union badly needs fixing. The Germans, under the leadership of Angela Merkel, have achieved a position of hegemony. Merkel had the support of both those who wanted to be good Europeans and those who wanted her to protect German national interest. But in the case of the migration issue, she acted on principle. She deserves credit for making a European asylum policy possible.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is promoting the principles of Hungarian and Christian identity. Combining national identity with religion is a powerful mix. The leader of the newly elected ruling party in Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński, is taking a similar approach. He chose migration as the central issue of his campaign. Poland is one of the most ethnically and religiously homogeneous countries in Europe. Kaczyński and Orbán seek to exploit a mix of ethnic and religious nationalism.

The European Union needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the crisis. My foundation has developed a plan that would reassert control over the European rather than national borders and allow asylum seekers to reach Europe in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects the capacity to absorb them. Orbán is challenging Merkel for the leadership of Europe by attacking the values and principles on which the European Union was founded.

I am convinced that Britain should stay in Europe not only for economic but even more for political reasons. Currently, Britain has the best of all possible deals with Europe. It has access to the common market where nearly half of UK exports go while it is not weighed down by the burden of having joined the eurozone.


Frank Wilczek

At the frontiers of physics, everyday experience is not a good guide and experiments can be difficult and expensive. My work has been guided by trying to make the laws more beautiful.

Symmetry is change without change. The theory of relativity is about change without change. You can look at the world from a moving platform and different things rushing at you or away from you will look quite different, but the same laws will apply as in the stationary frame. You change the way things look and yet the laws are still valid.

In quantum mechanics, the primary description of reality is a wave function and its equations are deterministic. If you know the wave function at one time, you can predict what it will be at another time. The deep structure is determined, but from where we sit within the universe, we cannot determine it. Operationally, things look unpredictable.

There is a lot about the world besides the laws of physics and physical phenomena. I care very much about what it all means. For me beauty goes into what it all means.

HMS Protector

When I'm 64
Caroline Haydon

64 is the age that I completed
my training in the UK as a yoga
teacher. Last year I got my
certificate. And I've been
teaching ever since.

AR I met CH in Oxford
45 years ago today.

Tim Peake
Major Tim:
"something wrong"


2016 January 19

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

John Thornhill

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, by Klaus Schwab, reviews the new technologies of artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, the blockchain, biotechnology. and so on. The confluence of these technologies amounts to a fourth industrial revolution, following:

1 The steam and coal revolution of the late 18th century
2 The electricity and oil revolution of the late 19th century
3 The digital electronics revolution of the late 20th century

Schwab: "The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril."

The revolution can lift "humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny" — for chief executives on their way to Davos.

AR This is GLOBORG — I rest my case.

2016 January 18


David Gardner

The lifting of sanctions on Iran brings the Islamic Republic in from the cold, reconnects a potentially vibrant emerging economy to world markets, and opens the way for Tehran to become a force for stability in a region in meltdown.

Iran is an indispensable player in several Mideast conflicts. Yet it has a long road to travel to win acceptance in a region where it has forged a Shiite axis from Baghdad to Beirut. Sunni Saudi Arabia is not alone in feeling that Iran has taken advantage of the fracturing of Arab countries to behave like an imperial power.

Iran has unmet investment needs of up to $200 billion a year for the coming decade, with a fifth of proven world gas reserves to pay for them. It has already announced plans to buy more than 100 new airliners from Airbus.



Just 62 people have the same combined wealth as the poorer half of the global population combined. The richest 1% now own as much as the rest of the world.

2016 January 17

Why am I me?

Mark Haddon

We are no nearer to explaining why we experience things as subjects. Neuroscience and psychology have made huge advances in solving the questions of how the brain performs its mechanical and computational functions. Everything so far observed inside the human head happens automatically when the right molecules are in the right place in the right state at the right time. My consciousness seems to be the mental theater for the drama of the world. I star in the show.

AR See the psychohistoric "I am/am not X" (for each X in turn) dialectic in my next book GLOBORG
(on which I am delaying commencement until I have a contract and an advance).

Space Oddity

New Scientist

KIC 8462852 is baffling astronomers. NASA planet hunter Kepler watched its stellar region from 2009 to 2013 and found the star dipped erratically in brightness throughout the period, sometimes by as much as 20%. A team led by Tabetha Boyajian tried to make sense of this and decided that dust from a large cloud of comets was the best explanation. In October 2015, Jason Wright and others suggested that alien megastructures could be dimming the signal.

Now the mystery deepens. Bradley Schaefer studied old digitally scanned photographic plates of the sky and found that the star faded by about 20% between 1890 and 1989. He estimates it would take maybe a million comets, each a million gigatons in mass, to cause the dimming, which refutes the idea. He also doubts that alien megastructure are the cause, since they would radiate light absorbed from the star as heat, and the infrared signal from the star seems normal.

AR I blogged the Wright idea on 2015-10-15. The aliens might convert starlight into starship fuel
(on which see The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal — blog 2015-11-25).

2016 January 16

Saint Augustine

Garry Wills

Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions about his own life from his birth in 354 CE, to his early belief in Manichaeism, to his baptism in Milan and the death of his mother in 387.

Robin Lane Fox traces the progress of Augustine with reference to dreams, conversions, ascents, and visions. To assure us that prophetic dreams, mystical ascents, and visions were common and believed in, he traces their influence on two of Augustine's contemporaries: the Christian bishop Synesius of Cyrene (circa 373–414) and the pagan orator Libanius of Antioch (circa 314–393).

Synesius and Libanius lived in the great world; Augustine did not. The great world of the fourth and fifth centuries was Rome's Eastern empire. That is where the theological and ecclesiastical action was. It hosted the ecumenical councils — Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) — and theological giants such as Origen, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa were from places like Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, and Constantinople.

Augustine sought God within himself, mystery seeking mystery: "You were more in me than I was in me ... Anyone reading this should travel on with me where we agree; search with me where we are unsure; rejoin me if he finds he is astray; call me back if I am astray. In this way, we may jointly proceed along the path opened by love, venturing toward the one ..."

AR The development of Christianity was evidently a great civilizational project, analogous to that of science in recent centuries.

2016 January 15

Brilliant Supernova


Astronomers have discovered a supernova brighter than any other observed to date. At its peak it was more luminous than 500 billion suns.

All-Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae source ASAS-SN-15lh (SN 2015L) reached an absolute magnitude of –23.5 and bolometric luminosity 2 × 10^38 W, and is located in a galaxy perhaps 4 billion light-years away.

Science lead author Subo Dong: "The explosion's mechanism and power source remain shrouded in mystery."

2016 January 14


Damian Carrington

Earth has entered the Anthropocene age. New research published in Nature shows that human burning of fossil fuels is postponing the next global ice age for at least 100,000 years.

The researchers found that a combination of lower sunlight at a latitude of 65°N, where snow surviving through the summer leads to ice sheets, and low carbon dioxide in the atmosphere triggers a new ice age to dawn. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen from 280 ppm at the start of the industrial revolution to 400 ppm today. The CO2 will head off ice ages for the next 100 ky (over 3 Ts).

Lead researcher Andrey Ganopolski: "It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it."

AR With oil below $30, let's keep warm!

Sunni vs Shiite

David Gardner

Saudi Arabia is injecting sectarian venom into the Mideast. The House of Saud and the Wahhabi clerical establishment are inciting a Sunni-Shiite conflict that is ripping the region apart.

Saudi leaders see the Iran-led Shiite jihad in the region as a greater threat than the Sunni jihad. For them the Arabian peninsula is sacred territory for Sunni Islam. The local Shiites are abominated as idolaters by Wahhabi bigots.

King Salman launched a war in Yemen against Shiites. Executing Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a political assassination. The House of Saud is facing intractable problems.

AR We need to get Islam out of politics.

2016 January 13


Simon Critchley

David Bowie released Blackstar just a few days before his death. In it he sings, "I'm not a pop star."

Bowie spoke most eloquently to the weirdos, freaks, and outsiders. He negated all the nonsense, the falsity, the accrued social meanings, traditions, and morass of identity that shackled us. His songs revealed how fragile all these meanings were and gave us the belief that our capacity for changes was limitless.

Unlike Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, Bowie turned down a knighthood from the queen in 2003.

AR No sir, good man.


Rory MacLean

David Bowie moved from Los Angeles to Berlin in late 1976. He had been on the edge of physical and mental collapse. At first, he fell back on drinking and clubbing with flatmate Iggy Pop.

To defeat his demons, Bowie needed space and stability. His assistant Coco Schwab found him a modest apartment in Schöneberg and stocked it with canvas and paint. She read Nietzsche beside him, beneath a portrait Bowie painted of Yukio Mishima.

Bowie began to edge away from cocaine psychosis, finding his way out of his life of excess, remaking himself as an ordinary man. He dressed in baggy trousers and dowdy shirts, and no one bothered him on the street.

By the summer of 1977, Bowie was on a creative high. With Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, he began to make a new album, "Heroes". The title song became Berlin's rock anthem.

In those months in Berlin, Bowie made his journey from addiction to independence, from celebrity paranoia to unmasked messenger who told us all that we too could be ourselves.

AR I read Mishima in Japan. He committed hara-kiri in 1970 to inspire Japanese youth with the old martial virtues.

Bowie was to the 70s what the Beatles were to the 60s
Dorian Lynskey

David Bowie's third album, released in 1970, touched on schizophrenia and paranoid delusion. In his fourth, Hunky Dory (1971), he saw an exhausted landscape of fallen icons and sunken dreams, crying out for change. Ziggy Stardust (1972) toyed with stardom and charisma, fed by Warhol and Nietzsche.

Bowie found the overlapping appeal of rock stars and right-wing dictators exciting. He reveled in decadence and desperate hedonism. In 1973, he returned from Japan by train through the USSR and the Eastern Bloc. Diamond Dogs (1974) married two dystopias: gray police state and insurgent anarchy.

He moved to New York in 1974. Young Americans (1975) found him searching for liberation in Philadelphia soul. He got into trouble for predicting the emergence of a new fascist leader who would cut through the mess and impose tyranny: "Hitler was one of the first rock stars."

A love of German art led him to Berlin for Low (1977), "Heroes" (also 1977), and Lodger (1979). He was hardly upbeat, but the music was fresh and optimistic. In this cold war city he pulled back from despair and emerged intact.

AR Beatles: Born in Liverpool, made in Hamburg. Bowie: born in London, made in Berlin.


John Gray

In 1869, aged 24, Friedrich Nietzsche was seen as a prodigy and appointed professor in classical philology at the University of Basel. But he retired due to poor health in 1878, went mad in 1889, and died in 1900.

His sister Elisabeth seized control of his writings and methodically deleted passages attacking racism. For her compilation of his writings published as Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power) German academics nominated her for the Nobel prize in literature. When she died in 1935, Hitler attended her funeral.

Nietzsche despised nationalism and ridiculed social Darwinism. He preferred the Old Testament to the New. His observations on the origins of liberal values in Jewish and Christian monotheism are resonant today.

2016 January 12

David Bowie

Marilyn Manson

I went for a dizzying car ride through the Hollywood Hills and listened to Diamond Dogs. All of my nostalgia instantly turned to awe. I was hearing him sing about fiction as a mask to show his naked soul. This changed my life forever.

AR I listened to Diamond Dogs in 1974 while reading axiomatic set theory. Then I listened to Beethoven and read Hegel on logic. I alternated the pair, very loud, until the ideas achieved fusion. This changed my life forever.

Sweet Thing

The New York Times

USAF F-15 Eagle drops a mock B61-12 bomb as part of a $10 billion program to build a smart nuclear bomb. Its computerized fin guidance can zero in precisely on deeply buried targets and its yield can be dialed up or down to minimize collateral damage.

HD video (0:57)

David Bowie
David Bowie

General theory of relativity:

The term with capital lambda
is the cosmological constant.
The term on the right hand
side multiplied by Newton's
gravitational constant G is
the matter term. The terms
containing R describe the
curvature of space.

C. Hennes
Milo Moiré protests
naked in Cologne


50 Jahre alt, für schicken
800 qm Neubau geeignet

AR Wenige Minuten
am Strandweg entlang
von mir entfernt


2016 January 11


Joris Luyendijk

The European Union faces the worst and most dangerous crisis since its creation. But Britain is refusing to help — and using this historic moment of weakness to extract concessions in time for the Brexit referendum.

It is high time for Europeans to take a cold and honest look at the British. Or rather, the English. Scotland is largely pro-EU while Wales and Northern Ireland have far less influence.

This referendum is an opportunity to cut the English loose. Let them simmer in their splendid irrelevance. They will still be in NATO and will do no damage. The United States valued Britain as its proxy seat at the European table.

Half of British trade is with the EU, but little more than a tenth of EU trade is with Britain. Radoslaw Sikorski: "No prizes for guessing who would have the upper hand in the negotiations."

The EU faces an unprecedented refugee crisis, the euro mess, a growing terrorist threat, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, plus another distraction from England.

For many mainland Europeans, the EU offers the promise of freedom from the threat of nationalism. But the English are taught to believe that nationalism is what saved them from Hitler. For England, the EU is an economic project. Every argument is framed around the British national interest.

The English will suffer if they leave. The Scots may prefer Brussels to London. The EU can repatriate financial powers from London. Global corporations can have their European HQs in the EU. The EU can support India for a permanent seat on the UN security council.

A child can see that the EU needs fundamental reform. Imagine that England had argued not for a better deal for Britain, but for all Europeans. The English are only in it for themselves.

General Relativity

Jeremy Bernstein

Albert Einstein summarized his general theory of relativity in Annalen der Physik in 1916.

The key is what it means to be weightless. Einstein introduced the metaphor of an elevator in outer space, far from any gravitating object. He imagined the elevator pulled up by a rope so that it had any acceleration one wanted. If it was pulled up with the acceleration of a freely falling body on Earth then the occupants of the elevator would think they are on Earth. This principle of equivalence implies that space in the presence of gravity is curved.

Light in a vacuum propagates in straight lines. With our space elevator stationary, we emit a light beam from one side and it propagates to the other in a straight line. It is always the same distance from the floor. Now we do the same thing when the elevator is pulled up. The floor rises to meet the light beam, so viewed from inside the elevator the beam follows a curved path toward the floor.

By the principle of equivalence this setup can be replaced by a stationary elevator in a gravitational field. Gravity curves space. Light follows the straight lines in this space as do other gravitating objects. The geometry of spacetime is curved.

Einstein successfully explained the precession in the orbit of the planet Mercury and predicted the bending of starlight by the gravitational field of the sun. This was tested in the 1919 expeditions led by Sir Arthur Eddington to observe stars during a total eclipse of the sun. The results agreed with the theory. Einstein became a world celebrity.

The theory applies to cosmology. Einstein believed that the universe was stationary, so in 1917 he added a cosmological constant to his original equations to predict this. Then Edwin Hubble showed that the universe is expanding. Einstein disowned the constant.

2016 January 10

Sex Mob Scandal

Tony Allen-Mills

German police fired water cannon in Cologne last night to prevent clashes between rival groups of demonstrators who had gathered to protest against the sex mob attacks on New Year's Eve.

PEGIDA demonstrators called for ousting Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose policies let over a million migrants arrive in Germany last year. Merkel responded by proposing a sharp revision of asylum laws to speed up the deportation of migrants who break German laws.

All agreed that the heavy police presence had been absent when was needed on New Year's Eve. Police confirmed that 1,700 officers had been deployed, compared with 140 on New Year's Eve. Hundreds of young men and women had turned out to watch fireworks and greet the new year.

Ariane Pfannstiel: "I don’t know what was worst that night. Was it the absence of police or their impotence? Or the fact that I had never seen so many aggressive men face to face? ... It was loud, hostile and contemptuous of women. We fled from the square but inside the station was no better. We were denounced as sluts and whores, harassed and persecuted."

Mirjam: "There were boys and old men, they looked like fathers and sons. My boyfriend was standing right beside me, trying to push them away, but it was incredible. They were just taking it in turns to grab at my breasts. I thought if I let go of my friend's hand they would drag me away."

Sabine told German radio she had scratch marks between her thighs where a man had groped under her skirt. Other women reported their purses had been snatched and some told police they had seen gang leaders directing the assaults.

Cologne police said the number of cases filed involving violence during the festivities had reached 379, including 2 claims of rape, and that migrants made up the majority of suspects.

New Year's Eve assaults on women also took place in Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Bielefeld.

On Thursday, visitors to Cologne cathedral saw Swiss performance artist Milo Moiré standing naked with a banner that read: "We are not fair game even when we are naked."

Merkel: "The most important thing is that the facts about what happened are spoken about openly and bluntly. Terrible things happened and we must respond to them."

German Mood Ugly

Alan Posener

Cologne, New Year's Eve: Crowds of people gather on the square between the cathedral and the railway station to celebrate.

But something more sinister is going on. Women and girls are surrounded, poked and jeered at as whores and sluts, their blouses ripped and their underwear torn off. One girl: "I had mens' hands on every body opening."

More than 100 women file sexual molestation charges against men of north African or Arab origin. Yet the next morning the police report a quiet night.

German railway stations had been symbols of the new Willkommenskultur, with crowds welcoming refugees from Syria and elsewhere. Now they are symbols for what some call Islamic rape culture. The mood is ugly across Europe today.

2016 January 9

UK vs EU

Ashley Fox MEP

Brexit: What would happen if Britain voted to leave?
This report by the group British Influence looks at the arguments against leaving by posing the challenges that the UK would face were we to leave.

The case for voting to leave
This report by the Vote Leave group is focused on how leaving might be of benefit to the UK.

Supermassive Black Holes

New Scientist

Our universe is just one in a multiverse, says the theory of eternal inflation. If at the big bang spacetime expanded exponentially, quantum effects played a role in how it evolved. A small patch of spacetime could flip into a different quantum state, forming a bubble. Such bubbles could form at random throughout our inflating universe. Bubbles could inflate into their own baby universes. Each would spawn other bubbles, to make a multiverse.

Alex Vilenkin and colleagues have found that bubbles formed with a low enough internal energy begin to expand. But when inflation ends in our universe the bubbles collapse to black holes. Bubbles that form later are smaller and collapse into standard black holes, with only a singularity inside. But earlier bubbles create bigger black holes concealing their own baby universes. At first we are connected to their interiors via wormholes, but these quickly close. The universes within keep inflating.

The analysis suggests that we can look for signs of the multiverse by checking the distribution of black holes. The higher the mass of the black holes, the more of them there should be up to a critical mass, after which the number should fall. This may help explain how the supermassive black holes we see became so big. The black holes hiding a universe within would start out big.

The work may also have implications for the black hole information loss paradox. If the information swallowed by a black hole comes out again in Hawking radiation, we face problems, such as the formation of a blazing firewall at the horizon of the black hole, something prohibited by general relativity. If black holes may hide baby universes, we can think again.

2016 January 8


Josef Joffe

Ron Rosenbaum: "I believe the State of Israel may not survive."

The Islamic revolutionaries of Iran want to "wipe off the map" a country credited with 80 to 200 nuclear weapons. Israel is not a great power, but like the United States it possesses a nuclear triad: attack aircraft by air, Jericho IRBMs on land, and SLBMs at sea. The Dolphin U-boats offer CASD. With one boatload, Israel can obliterate Iran as a civilization and still have enough left to deter the rest. The Islamic regime will not court Armageddon to destroy Israel.

Israel has beaten the Arabs over and over again. The Jewish state has an army of 133,000 with 500 tanks, some 440 combat aircraft, and 400,000 reservists. In terms of GNP, Israel puts $306 billion on the scales. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria together come in at $400 billion. Israel has seven great research universities, the Arab world none. Hezbollah is the best Arab force in the region, but Israel can bomb its arms deliveries from Iran.

Jewish immigration to Israel reached a 15-year high in 2015, with around 30,000 new arrivals. They come from France, Russia, and Ukraine. Israel projects a population of 11 to 12 million for 2035. In fertility ranking, Israel is #1 among all Western nations. Fertility reflects trust in the future. Jews have survived for 5776 years.

Sholem Aleichem: "No matter how bad things get, you have to go on living, even if it kills you."

AR On Ron, see blog 2015-12-15.

Saudis vs Iran

Philip Stephens

Israelis think more clearly than most about the geopolitical dynamics of the Mideast. Tehran holds promise as a natural ally for Israel. But logic still dictates that Israel stay with Saudi Arabia. Checking Shiite ambitions trumps the Palestine problem.

Iran has civilizational depth. Any Mideast nation that allocates most of its university places to women has something going for it. Saudi Arabia weds the medievalism of the House of Saud to the extremist Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam.

The west was duped into a nuclear deal with Iran that offers at best a pause in its nuclear program. Tehran backs Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Assad regime in Syria, and Houthi rebels in Yemen. Israel cannot wait for reform in Iran.

The western alliance with Saudi Arabia is loosening. Dependence on Gulf oil and tolerance of Wahhabism are waning. Yet Saudi Arabia is still viewed as an ally. Its theocracy is preferable to the black flag of the caliphate raised over Riyadh.

Annual arms spend:
Saudi Arabia $55 billion
Iran $10 billion

Pablo Carlos Budassi

 Our Visual Universe
Radial log plot from NASA data

Greening Fuel
Katherine Bourzac

Photosynthesis lets plants
use sunlight to turn water and
carbon dioxide into stuff the
plants need, plus oxygen.
Peidong Yang is building an
artificial system that does the
same, using nanowires and
engineered bacteria. It will
churn out standard fuels but
with no net carbon footprint.
The system is about as
efficient as natural photo-synthesis. Making it more
efficient comes next.


Vincent Callebaut sees ocean
communities reaching to the
sea floor from green marinas
on the water surface. The
underwater oceanscrapers
would provide 250 floors of
space to live and work and
reach a depth of 1 km. They
would desalinate seawater for
drinking, use microalgae to
recycle organic waste, be
lit by bioluminescence,
and be printed from
recycled plastics.


2016 January 7

Black Holes

Ian Sample

Astronomers have found that black holes can sometimes be seen through an optical telescope.

V404 Cygni is a binary system some 8,000 light years (75 Em) from Earth. A black hole and a star orbit each other about once a week, close enough for the black hole to strip matter from the star. This spirals down into the black hole and emits a final burst of radiation.

Last June, the NASA Swift gamma ray telescope picked up signs of an outburst. When Japanese scientists looked at the black hole they saw flashes of light for the two weeks it was active.

The NASA Chandra x-ray observatory recently detected two big blasts of gas coming from a supermassive black hole 26 million light years away in the heart of galaxy NGC 5195.

Texas astrophysicist Eric Schlegel: "Astronomers often refer to black holes as eating stars and gas. Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal. It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward, but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events."

AR On greedy black holes, see blog 2015-11-25.

2016 January 6

Mideast Turmoil

Ray Takeyh

Both the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have staked their legitimacy on a mission of exporting religion. The Iranians warned the Saudis not to harm Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr but the Sauds killed him anyway. The principal victim will be House of Saud itself.

Soon after coming to power in 1979, the mullahs called on Gulf states to revolt and sever relations with the United States. The Iranians especially targeted Saudi Arabia but failed to see that their revolution was never an attractive model of empowerment for Saudi Shiites.

The Saudi kingdom's current rulers seem to share Iran's misconceptions about the loyalties of Saudi Shiites. Denigrating Shiites as heretics only inflames their grievances and radicalizes them.

The post-colonial Arab order is disappearing. Syria and Iraq are beset by civil wars. Iran is on the march. The silence from Washington is deafening.

Brexit Danger

Peter Müller, Christoph Scheuermann

EU leaders plan to give in to most of David Cameron's reform demands. At the February summit he will be opposed by all his 27 EU counterparts. But in the end he will get his way.

European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have already written the script for their own defeat. Their goal is to give Cameron the political tailwind he needs to keep the UK in the EU following his planned referendum. For them, Brexit is a nightmare scenario:

1 FN leader Marine Le Pen has already announced that she plans to hold a similar referendum in France if she wins the French 2017 presidential elections. Brexit and Frexit together would kill the EU.

2 Brexit would knock the EU power structures off kilter. Without the UK and its advocacy of free trade, the influence of southern European countries would rise and that of Germany and its northern neighbors would fall.

3 The EU would be weakened in the global economy. Brexit would leave the union with 13% fewer residents and 17% less economic clout. Without London, the EU would have no global financial capital except Frankfurt.

Even the most controversial British demands could go through. Cameron wants a law to stop EU citizens who work in the UK from accessing social benefits for four years. This is a clear case of discrimination and violates EU law. A compromise solution could exclude citizens of EU member states from British social benefits for one year in accordance with a previous European Court of Justice ruling.

Advocates of Brexit hope that British voters will choose Brexit no matter what kind of deal Cameron strikes in Brussels. Jim Mellon: "The Eurozone ship is like the Titanic. It will sink sooner rather than later. It is better to be sitting in a lifeboat than to be dragged down."

Sex Attacks in Germany

The New York Times

On New Year's Eve in the German city of Köln, about a hundred young women were sexually harassed and robbed by hundreds of young men. The assaults took place on the public square in front of Köln Hauptbahnhof, near bars and nightclubs. Police said the attackers were young men "who appeared to have a North African or Arabic" background.

Kölner Polizeipräsident Wolfgang Albers said the assaults had taken place in a chaotic crowd after a fireworks show. The men appeared to have broken into smaller groups, with each one encircling a woman, while some groped the victim and others stole her wallet or cellphone. One victim said she had been raped.

Kölner Oberbürgermeisterin Henriette Reker called the assault "absolutely intolerable" and pledged her support for an investigation. Köln took in more than 10,000 migrants last year, many of them young men from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Similar assaults took place on New Year's Eve in Hamburg.

2016 January 5

Collecting Tax

Cass R. Sunstein

Many wealthy people worldwide hide money in foreign countries to avoid paying taxes in their home countries. About 8% of the world's wealth, or $7.6 trillion, is held in tax havens. In 2015, Switzerland alone held $2.3 trillion in foreign wealth. Unreported foreign accounts cost governments about $200 billion in tax revenue each year. In the United States the annual tax loss is $35 billion. In Europe it is $78 billion.

Gabriel Zucman says international balance sheets show more liabilities than assets. In 2015, the nations of the world recorded $2 trillion as mutual fund holdings in Luxembourg as liabilities. But Luxembourg recorded $3.5 trillion in mutual fund holdings as assets. The missing $1.5 trillion had no owners. The amount by which assets exceed liabilities is a measure of the hidden wealth. The global grand total is around $7.6 trillion.

Zucman proposes an automatic global register to let every government in the world know where money is kept and who is escaping national taxes. An automatic register makes special inquiries or evidence of suspicion unnecessary. A global register would not only help combat bribery and money laundering but also ease imposition of a global wealth tax.

Many nations are considering requirements on banks to identify their clients and to disclose holdings and payments. But they are not proposing penalties. Banks have a lot to gain from business as usual. Also, offshore accounts hidden behind trusts and shell corporations are hard to link with their real owners.

Tax evaders are mostly the wealthiest people. Tax avoidance by multinational corporations is different, because it is typically done without violating a national law. Tax avoidance costs the United States $35 billion a year, and some estimates say that the real loss is as high as $100 billion.

AR An automatic global register should use blockchain technology (blog 2015-11-02).

2016 January 4

UK Economic Security: EU Membership Vital

Financial Times

David Cameron's claim that British membership of a reformed EU is vital to Britain's economic security is backed by an overwhelming majority of economists in an FT survey.

Most of the 102 economists thought economic prospects following a Brexit would be hit if voters decided to leave. None thought a vote to leave would enhance UK economic growth this year and 67 said the outlook would deteriorate. Brexit was the top cited risk to prosperity, with concern that exit would cause capital to flee the UK.

In the medium term, opinion was even more strongly opposed to exit. Concerns were that companies would no longer use the UK as a base for their European operations: 76 economists said leaving the EU would harm prospects, 8 said the outlook outside the EU would be better, and 18 said it would make little difference.

UK Strategic Security: EU Membership Vital

Ulrich Speck

Brexit would be bad for Britain and Europe. The UK would lose its hold on developments in Europe, lose the weight of the EU to back it up, and loosen its special relationship with the United States.

The UK chose to be the junior partner in a US "special relationship" rather than a leader in European integration. Britain is now too weak to go it alone globally, and engaging more with the EU would be wiser. Americans want a strong European partner with a united foreign policy. For US policymakers, Britain is relevant only so far as it can help build coalitions in the EU.

The EU is becoming a political entity. The German-French conflict has been solved through European integration. Democracy around Europe is consolidated through European integration.

2016 January 3


Olga Khazan

Rebekah Herrick sought to figure out why so many US senators and representatives stay clean-shaven. She collected photos of the male members of Congress with facial hair and matched each photo to an image of a similar bare-faced member, then showed the photo pairs to a group of students and asked them to rate the men for masculinity and likely stances on feminist issues.

The congressmen with facial hair were thought to be more masculine and less feminist. Women and feminists in the group said they were less likely to vote for them. This may be why so few political candidates have sported facial hair since women gained the right to vote. Yet voting records show that on average the bearded policymakers vote like the others on feminist issues.

Perhaps politicians grow beards not for sexist reasons but for the reason that facial-hair researchers have unearthed again and again: The beard gets respect. A thick beard signals virility, sexual potency, manhood, and natural strength and authority. Across several studies, men with facial hair are rated as more masculine, dominant, older, and in some cases attractive.

AR I'm growing a beard.

2016 January 2

Read Greats

Daisy Dunn

Latin was squeezed out of many British schools with the introduction of the National Curriculum from 1989. Classics was commonly dismissed as a stale and arcane subject, beyond the interest of anyone outside the old public schools or Oxbridge. Now that is changing.

Last year the British Museum in London staged an exhibition dedicated to the Greek aesthetic. It showcased Greek and Roman craftsmanship as well as contemporary thought about the past. Latin and Greek suffered tremendously in our time and are only now returning.

Knowledge of Latin used to be prerequisite for studying at the top universities. But in 1960 both Oxford and Cambridge dispensed with Latin as an entry requirement for non-classics candidates. That year too it was decided that Latin would no longer be obligatory at O level.

The ancient Greeks appeal to military men too. US generals Colin Powell and David Petraeus studied Greek military texts. Change is coming: Oxford scholar Peter Frankopan began his new history of the world not with Greece but with the rise of the Persian empire.

2016 January 1

Saint Augustine

Joos van Gent

Augustine, born in 354 CE, had a strong sexual appetite. Moving to Carthage as a young man, he sank into a "seething cauldron of lust" and admitted to "procuring the fruits of death" while in church. He also took a concubine with whom he had a son. He prayed for chastity, but "not yet".

Augustine came to reject sex but saw that evil was part of human nature. As a student, he joined a club whose members went around harassing other students. He joined because he was lonely. He slept around for the same reason. He realized that our vices are often misdirected virtues.

Confessions, composed in his early 40s, reads like the work of a great novelist or poet.

BLOG 2015


What Is Islam?
Shahab Ahmed

"Not merely field changing,
but the boldest and best
thing I have read in
any field in years."
Noah Feldman

"What Shahab Ahmed has
accomplished in this book
is to create a postcolonial
ontology of Islam."
Robert Wisnovsky

Lemmy, Motörhead
Ace of Spades

Hulton Archive
Fairy Tales
Ellen Handler Spitz

Fairy tales seek the truth
and glimpse greater things.
We are hooked by the imagery
and by the gaps, by deep
yearning and terror.
They beckon us.

Poor Sauds

The Saudi ministry of finance
will roll out austerity reforms
and privatization plans. The
Saudi budget deficit in 2015 is
about $100 billion and revenue
$160 billion. Fiscal discipline
may reduce the deficit in 2016
with revenues forecast at
$140 billion.

AR Stop funding Salafism.

Chen Man
China counters terrorism

AR Here in Poole the warm
weather continues. Before
breakfast I ran miles along
the beach and returned to
where I'd parked my shoes
to find them gone — I had
to run home barefoot.
Tough feet, old shoes,
no problem.

AR Gray was at my Oxford
college, a year ahead of me.
Once over brandy and cigars
in the SCR, I told Isaiah Berlin
that I was trying to reconcile
Hegel and Frege in logic via
set theory and he replied with
an ironic smirk: "Good luck!"



AI Aces IQ Tests

MIT Technology Review

IQ tests usually include verbal reasoning questions that are hard for an AI. Huazheng Wang and others at the University of Science and Technology of China and at Microsoft Research in Beijing built a deep learning machine that outperforms most humans at them.

Data mining techniques can analyze huge bodies of texts to find the links between words they contain. The statistics of word patterns show how words relate to each other in a huge parameter space. Words are represented by vectors in this space. Google language translation takes word sequences in different languages represented by similar vectors as translations of each other.

Words with multiple meanings make IQ questions harder, so the new approach takes each word and looks for other words that often appear nearby, then checks how their vectors are clustered, then looks up the words in a dictionary and matches the clusters to each meaning by comparing sample sentence vectors to the clusters. An algorithm sets an approach for each category of IQ question.

The team compared their AI scores on IQ tests with human scores. Average human scores were lower. Human performance on these tests tends to correlate with educational background. The AI method scored better than most university graduates.

Black Holes

New Scientist

FRBs, fast radio bursts, are thought to come from deep space. So far, 11 have been observed. They may be signals from black holes behaving in a new way.

In one approach to quantum gravity, the quanta of spacetime are tiny interlocking loops. A black hole might shrink to a density where the loops press together and bounce. As the black hole shrinks, the probability of quantum tunneling rises until it pops out as a white hole, spewing out hot stuff.

Carlo Rovelli and others calculated that an exploding black hole would emit signals at a wavelength equal to its diameter. For primordial black holes, the wavelength is between infrared and radio waves. Their predictions for an exploding or bouncing black hole signal match the observed FRBs.

Time slows down in a gravitational field. A massive black hole with stronger time dilation would take longer to bounce. Primordial black holes are generally tiny, like ticking time bombs. The smaller ones will explode earlier in cosmic history, with FRBs at shorter wavelengths. This could be tested.

More prosaic ideas come to mind. FRBs may be emitted by young pulsars. Or they may be the call sign of a distant alien civilization.

2015 December 30

Imperial Europe

Edward Lucas

Imperial Europe prizes effectiveness over democracy and national sovereignty. The ship may sink. The best bet for vassal states like Britain or France is to stay on board.

The imperial competition directorate is a formidable bureaucratic weapon with prosecutorial powers. Charged with maintaining the integrity of the single market, it defends consumers against monopolies and protectionist governments and it can levy fines that humble the biggest global companies. Singlemarketland is the richest and most powerful economic entity in the world.

The imperial eurozone is turning into the state of Euroland, with an interventionist central bank, a bailout fund, enforceable fiscal rules, and common banking supervision. North European exporters will benefit from an artificially low exchange rate and will subsidize the south Europeans to reform and regain competitiveness.

The imperial passport-free travel zone is turning into Schengenland. With 26 countries, this incipient superstate is a benefit that ordinary Europeans truly value. It has come under threat from terrorism and uncontrolled migration, so Schengenland now has its own army to protect its external frontier and police to ensure an effective criminal justice system.

Most voters are not yet ready to accept imperial Europe and to forswear national sovereignty. They could sink the ship. But the consequences would be catastrophic.

Ahmed on Islam

Elias Muhanna

Shahab Ahmed was a scholar of Islamic studies at Harvard. He argued that the interpretation of Islam through western scholarship obscured the historical and human phenomenon of Islam. He died this year aged 48.

At Princeton, Ahmed studied the Satanic Verses incident in which the Prophet Muhammad was said to have mistaken some verses suggested by Satan as being part of the divinely revealed Koran. Ahmed found a consensus on the event in contrast to the doctrinal rejection that emerged centuries later.

At Harvard, Ahmed taught graduate seminars. He covered a tremendous braid of narratives in an intellectual tradition spanning over a millennium. He left the Satanic Verses project incomplete but wrote an introduction: What Is Islam?

A belt of Muslim societies stretched for five centuries from eastern Europe and southern Asia into northern India. Islam embraced the rationalism of Avicenna, Sufi mysticism, a celebration of art, a taste for literary ambiguity, and distinctions between public and private selves and legal and other norms.

Avicenna advanced the idea of a superior truth accessible to philosophers and a lesser version of that truth communicated via such prophets as Muhammad. This understanding of the relationship between reason and revelation prompted charges of heresy, but Avicenna won the argument across the Islamic world.

Ahmed defines Islam as an engagement with the larger reality within which the Koran was revealed. The history of Islam comprehends not only literalists who hold to the Koran and the Hadith but also Islamic philosophy and Sufism, and everything in between. The challenge facing modern reformers is to use the history to explore Islam.

2015 December 29

The Year in Review

US Department of State

US foreign policy achievements in 2015:
Diplomatic relations re-established with Cuba
Winning fight against violent extremists
Protecting Arctic climate and communities
Iran peaceful nuclear program ensured
Stemming tide of Ebola outbreak
Committing to ambitious development goals
Open door to free trade
Protecting health of our ocean
Strongest climate agreement ever negotiated
Bringing peace, security to Syria

AR Uh? This is Orwellian.

US vs Daesh

Foreign Policy

In a 2007 report, Professor Joseph Nye and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that to solve its problems the United States needs a mix of hard and soft power. Their commission included former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; Senator Jack Reed, now the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Representative Mac Thornberry, now the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; and former CENTCOM commander Marine General Tony Zinni. The big line in the report: "Soft power is the ability to attract people to our side without coercion."

A smart power campaign directed against Daesh might look like this:
1 Recognize that the cost will be high.
2 Seek a collective, truly international strategy for the region.
3 Focus on drafting and resourcing a powerful collective strategic narrative.
4 Jobs, jobs, jobs.

Some cynics will say that this sounds laughable.

AR Well, yes: A narrative is more than a soundbite.

Germany vs Daesh

Constanze Stelzenmüller

When Germany recently signed up to the coalition against Daesh, the world took note. Its postwar polity had saddled Germany with the reputation of being shackled by remorse for the second world war and the Holocaust or even of freeloading on defense and security.

Germany inched its way into post-cold war military deployments only cautiously and slowly. It refused to join US-led coalitions in Iraq or Libya. But since 1999 Germany has committed thousands of troops to missions worldwide and is doing its bit in NATO operations.

Germany is not alone in struggling to articulate security strategy in a changing global order. We must make our democracies more resilient. But we must also make clear that we stand with our allies. Attacks or provocations will have consequences.

Responses need not always be military. Sanctions and diplomacy have worked against both Iran and Russia. The mass flight of Syrians from their homeland has alarmed and infuriated Daesh. Germany has responded well.

AR True: Without people Daesh is dead.

Saudi Arabia vs Daesh

Nawaf Obaid

Daesh is at war with the Saudi religious establishment to determine who espouses the purest tenets of Sunni Islam. As the custodian of the holy sites and the host for the hajj, Saudi Arabia leads all Muslims in fighting Daesh. Its new Muslim coalition to fight terrorism confirms that it is neither the source of Daesh nor aligned with Daesh. Consider:

1 Both Saudi Arabia and Daesh claim to be Salafi. This is how the Prophet's followers under the first three caliphs practiced Islam. The kingdom is Salafi, but the Daesh claim to be Salafi has no theological basis. Daesh follows a sect known as the Kharijites, who defected from the ummah during the reign of the fourth caliph Ali (whom they assassinated). The Kharijites said anyone who disagreed with them should be murdered as infidels (takfir), including women and children (isti'rad), or tortured to test their faith (imtihan).

2 Daesh has committed an act of disobedience that nullifies its Salafi pretenses. In original Islam, the highest authority is the guardian of the ummah (wali al amr). Saudi Arabia is this authority today. King Salman is the wali al amr. The proclamation (bay'ah) is a contract between the ruler and the ruled in which the ruler swears to promote Islam and the welfare of the ruled, and the ummah swears to obey (ta'ah) the tenets of Islam and follow the wali. The bay'ah is fundamental to Salafism. Daesh has broken the bay'ah.

3 Daesh and Saudi Arabia are locked in a theological struggle from which only one can emerge victorious. The core mission of Daesh is to restore the caliphate. Given that Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of Islam, the Daesh road to the caliphate lies through the Saudi kingdom and people.

Daesh is a threat to the entire world. Only a coalition led by Saudi Arabia can both defeat and delegitimize it in the eyes of all Muslims.

AR We need to rid the world of Salafism.

2015 December 28

Daesh in Iraq


Iraqi troops have retaken the city of Ramadi from Daesh. Iraqi TV showed Iraqi soldiers celebrating the "liberation" of the city, about 110 km from Baghdad. Ramadi fell to Daesh in May. It citizens are mostly Sunni and the Iraqi troops are mostly Shiites.

US-led coalition spokesman Colonel Steve Warren: "The clearance of the government center is a significant accomplishment and is the result of many months of hard work by the Iraqi Army, the Counter Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force, local and federal police and tribal fighters."

Daesh in Afghanistan

Robert Fisk

US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan General John F. Campbell says Daesh has surfaced in Afghanistan.

President Obama says the US "commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures" and Afghan forces are "fighting for their country bravely and tenaciously" as they try to hold urban areas. UK General Dannatt last week on the fall of Sangin: "We left Afghanistan in a situation where the Afghans were in control and the future was in their hands. It is not a great surprise that the Taliban have continued to push in southern Afghanistan."

We invaded Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Now we want the Taliban to fight against Daesh.

Daesh in Gaza

Sarah Helm

Hamas runs the de facto government of Gaza. Its members are seen as infidels by Daesh because they place the battle for Palestine before the campaign for a caliphate. Daesh supporters in Gaza have been firing rockets into Israel.

A video posted online by Daesh on June 30, 2015, shocked Hamas: "The point of jihad is not to liberate land, but to fight for and implement the law of God ... We will uproot the state of the Jews and you [Hamas] and Fatah [the PLO faction] ... and you will be overrun by our creeping multitudes."

In recent months, Hamas has persuaded moderate Salafi sheikhs to help convince jihadists that their interpretation of Islam is wrong. Sheikh Omar Hams, director of the Saudi-sponsored Ibn Baz Institute: "A Salaf means an original ancestor, one of those who lived close to the Prophet and observed his actions intimately, followed his ways and his words literally."

The nightmare of being locked inside Gaza with Daesh is worse than all other nightmares the Gazans have faced. If Daesh gains a foothold there, Israel will have to find a solution.

Climate Change


The United States is far from alone in dealing with deadly, destructive weather at the moment.

Heavy rains in parts of South America, blamed on El Nino, have displaced more than 150,000 people across Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Swaths of northern England have disappeared under mammoth flooding, prompting evacuations and dozens of urgent warnings.

Authorities in Spain and Australia, meanwhile, are fighting to get devastating fires under control.

2015 December 27

European Borders

Daniel Johnson

Well over a million asylum seekers gatecrashed EU borders in 2015.

In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orban stopped the influx with border fences, ignoring threats of sanctions from Brussels and Berlin. In Poland the nationalist Law and Justice party swept to power in October on an anti-immigration ticket.

Countries across Europe blame Germany for the migration crisis. British Labour MP Frank Field: "Defending our borders will become the dominant issue in British politics. It will be the defining issue in the forthcoming EU referendum."

Europe has a problem with the integration of Islam. Countries with the largest Muslim minorities have been the least successful at integrating them. Tighter border controls are clearly necessary for the prevention of terrorism.

Border anxiety looks certain to overshadow 2016.

Trident Renewal

Paul Ingram

BASIC advocates delaying the UK Trident renewal project. The risk of delay has been overstated. The underwater battle space is under major transition, and it is far from clear how new Trident submarines will be able to evade detection from emerging ASW capabilities.

A focus on CASD is a symbolic test of commitment to nuclear deterrence. CASD is grossly extravagant. The case for CASD centers on crisis stability. A future government may not be able to scramble an SSBN onto patrol fast enough. But a surprise attack on the UK is unlikely.

New underwater drones could torpedo Trident

Gott und die Welt verleugnet

Amazon-Rezension von Andy Ross

Warum es die Welt nicht gibt von Markus Gabriel

Die Welt existiert nicht, weil sie zu groß und unbegrenzt wäre - so Gabriel. Die Welt ist die Summe aller Sinnfelder aber nur Sinnfelder existieren. ...


... Durch diesen Mangel zu schauen ist für uns in Richtung Gott und die Welt zu bewegen, schon wieder in einer Dialektik. Meiner Ansicht nach könnte man die Ideen von Hegel soweit modern umsetzen. Dies scheint mir aber wesentlich weiter als Gabriel zu gehen gewagt hat.

Fazit: Gabriel hat anscheinend Gott und die Welt noch nicht ausreichend verstanden.

2015 December 26

John Gray, Isaiah Berlin

Richard Lofthouse

John Gray (Exeter, 1968) on Isaiah Berlin (Corpus, 1928): "I revere and even love him."

Fleeing the Bolsheviks in Petrograd in 1920, Berlin's wealthy Jewish family went to Riga and then to London. He was 11. He went on to outscore the future philosopher A.J. Ayer at finals, take a second first in PPE with less than a year's study, win a Prize Fellowship to All Souls aged 23, and many years later become the inaugural President of Wolfson College and the President of the British Academy.

Gray enjoyed his undergraduate and graduate years at Exeter, where he studied PPE before completing a D.Phil. He left Oxford for the London School of Economics when the chair of Professor of European Thought was created for him. He retired in 2008. He has written more than 30 books and hundreds of reviews and essays.

The Silence of Animals (Gray, 2013) begins with a citation by Arthur Koestler, imagining civilized apes living in harmony with the treetops, while the Neanderthals trampled the forest. From the point of view of the apes, says Koestler, the humans were a barbaric relapse of history. Gray: "Whereas the Victorians retched at the idea of being among the apes, it is in fact humans who have turned out to be the most destructive species."

Gray is scathing about political progress. Getting rid of Hussein in Iraq or Gaddafi in Libya did not result in greater freedoms and democracy. Gray predicted that al-Qaeda would be followed by something worse, he was laughed at, and now we have Daesh. He sees no steady advance toward greater civilization or even human decency. His ethics are based on a negative concept of liberty: "Negative freedom is true freedom because it best captures what makes freedom valuable, which is the opportunity it secures to live as you choose."

Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought (Gray, 1996) cites Berlin: "[T]o sacrifice the present to some vague and unpredictable future is a form of delusion which leads to the destruction of all that alone is valuable in men and societies ... the purpose of life is to be lived."

Forget your delusions, says Gray, and you will be much happier.

2015 Christmas Day

Der Sinn der Religion

Markus Gabriel

Die Welt gibt es nicht. Auch Gott kann es demnach nicht geben, wenn wir unter "Gott" ein solches Prinzip verstehen. Wir wissen nicht einmal, wer wir selbst sind, sondern befinden uns auf der Suche. Wie Kierkegaard und Heidegger erkannt haben, sind wir genau diejenigen Wesen, die sich auf dieser Selbstsuche befinden.

Religion ist das Gegenteil einer Welterklärung. ... Man könnte leicht provokativ sogar sagen, dass der Sinn der Religion die Einsicht ist, dass es Gott nicht gibt, dass Gott kein Objekt oder Supergegenstand ist, der den Sinn unseres Lebens garantiert.

Wer sich mit der Gottesfrage unabhängig von der Geschichtlichkeit des Geistes befasst, verfehlt die Frage eigentlich schon. Dies haben die deutschen Idealisten, aber auch Gadamer zutreffend unterstrichen. Gottes Existenz ist kein Problem der Naturwissenschaften, da Gott selstverständlich nicht im Universum vorkommt.

AR Gut gesagt, Gabriel.



Christmas Eve: Asteroid 2003 SD220 zooms past Earth about 11 Gm away
Christmas Day: Full moon at 11:11 GMT

"We have peace. And that
is what we mark tomorrow
as we celebrate the birth of
God's only son, Jesus Christ, the
prince of peace. As a Christian
country, we must remember
what his birth represents:
peace, mercy, goodwill,
and, above all, hope."
David Cameron

Six Eyes

Senior British spies briefed
Angela Merkel on the threat
posed by Daesh. In return,
she briefed the heads of MI5,
MI6, and GCHQ on Russia. Germany is not a member of
the Five Eyes US-UK-C-A-NZ
intelligence community.

"Today we are setting out
a modern legal framework
which brings together current
powers in a clear and
comprehensible way ...
that sets new standards for
openness, transparency
and oversight."
Theresa May


2015 Christmas Eve


Simon Jenkins

London is to get £5 million of government money to study its need for more concert halls, after £111 million was spent between 2005 and 2007 on the Royal Festival Hall. A garden bridge over the Thames at £100 million or more is currently attracting pledges of public money. Crossrail was easy to fund at £15 billion and Crossrail 2 will cost £27 billion.

Any other part of the UK asking for such sums would be laughed out of court. Walk around parts of north Manchester, South Yorkshire, or Teesside and you could still be in cold war eastern Europe. These places are economically destitute. High speed rail benefits the richer end of a line and will help London rather than Birmingham or Manchester.

Capital city UK must stop sucking up cash and help the rest. All public sector jobs not essential to London should be moved out of town. New transport investment should be between regional centers, not into London. Higher education should move out. Getting students out of London would energize the provinces and relieve the London rental market.

London does not need more big projects. They should be shared across the UK.

AR Poole needs more.

2015 December 23

Britain and Europe

William Hague

As foreign secretary, I was closely acquainted with central bodies of the European Union but had no enthusiasm for them. The European Commission could benefit from spending cuts, the European Court of Justice seems detached from reality, and the European Parliament does not remotely provide democratic accountability. My old friends and colleagues want to leave the EU.

Yet here I part company with them. I distinguish between deploring the state of the organization and deciding it is best to leave it. The importance of the negotiations the prime minister has launched should not be underestimated. What happens at the end of them will make a huge difference to party sentiment, media perceptions, government unity, and British voters.

Without the UK, the EU would be weaker. Amid all the clumsy bureaucracy and failed ideas, the EU has provided the structure and the standards for new democracies across central Europe to establish themselves. The UK would be weakened too. Nationalist dismemberment of the UK or of the EU would only increase the dangers of a turbulent Mideast and a volatile world economy. It is not in our interests for either union to fall apart. I am unlikely in 2016 to vote for Brexit.

Germany and Europe

Edward Lucas

Germans have worked hard to purge the crimes of the Nazi era. Europe is now facing a new Germany. It dominates Europe and enforces rules it believes to be right.

Germans feel they have done the right thing by taking a million asylum seekers this year. They are now asking other Europeans to help out by integrating migrants in their societies too. Germany is also promoting a paramilitary force to police external EU borders.

Germany runs the eurozone and has bailed out sinking south Europeans. It praises progress in Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and expects Greece to improve budget discipline and public administration.

Germany runs European foreign policy too. It dragged reluctant eastern and southern European governments into supporting sanctions on Russia and is even pushing for a deal with Turkey.

Modern Germany wants a strong economic and political order in Europe. Brits see the EU as a shipload of bossy bureaucrats holding them back, and nationalist Brits want to abandon ship in a dangerous old lifeboat. Germans want to make the EU work.

2015 December 22

Apple vs UK 1

Financial Times

Apple opposes a proposed new UK surveillance law. Other big US tech groups agree that the British bill sets a dangerous precedent for national spy agencies.

UK home secretary Theresa May introduced the measures in a draft investigatory powers bill. The bill gives police and security services access to the internet usage records of every UK citizen without prior judicial authorization.

Apple submitted written evidence to the committee scrutinizing the bill. British demands for access to data held in other countries would "immobilize substantial portions of the tech sector" and "likely be the catalyst for other countries to enact similar laws, paralyzing multinational corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of contradictory country-specific laws."

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and Microsoft will submit joint evidence to the committee.

Apple vs UK 2

The New York Times

Apple says UK lawmakers who talk about gaining court-ordered access to iPhone data do not understand the technology: "The best minds in the world cannot rewrite the laws of mathematics."

Washington lawmakers are calling for the kind of access to text messages and cellphone data that they have with telecom providers.

Apple: "Law enforcement today has access to more data — data which they can use to prevent terrorist attacks, solve crimes and help bring perpetrators to justice — than ever before in the history of our world."

Physics vs Psychology


Modern theories in physics reflect a dangerous departure from the scientific method. Theory has detached itself from experiment. No one has the faintest idea how to access the tiny distance scale of string theory, or on a big scale to see past our cosmic horizon.

George Ellis and Joe Silk: "Physicists, philosophers and other scientists should hammer out a new narrative for the scientific method that can deal with the scope of modern physics."

Bayesian confirmation theory allows for the fact that modern scientific theories typically reach beyond what can be directly observed. It changes the perceived probability of a theory as new information comes in. The Bayesian framework is flexible and connects to the psychology of reasoning.

Richard Dawid cites three arguments that lead string theorists to trust string theory:

1 Only one version of string theory achieves unification in a consistent way. No other theory of everything has been found that works. String theory is the only game in town.

2 String theory grew out of the Standard Model, which also had no alternatives for years. This argument supports argument 1 by showing it has worked before in similar contexts.

3 String theory has unexpectedly delivered explanations for several other theoretical problems aside from the unification problem it was intended to address.

Including such arguments in Bayesian theory opens the floodgates to abandoning scientific principles. Dawid: "But acknowledging that non-empirical confirmation is part of science ... provides a better basis for having that discussion than pretending that it wasn't there."

Bayesian theory does not distinguish between different kinds of certainty. Carlo Rovelli says the confirmation of atomic theory should not be measured in the same units as that of string theory. He warns: "Do not trust your own thinking."

AR Good advice to all thinkers.

Seasonal greetings to all my readers: Keep fit and feel well

Joey and Bob

Liam Fox

The fact that a British prime
minister has been effectively
forced to take the political
begging bowl around European
capitals in order to make the
laws that he believes necessary
for Britain is the best possible
demonstration of the problem.
It is time for us to recover our
birthright. That is why I'll be
campaigning to leave."

AR Fox is a loyal servant
of the UK state.

Female Beauty
Mathilde Grafström

RIA Novosty
Russian S-400 ADS in Syria
grounds US warplanes

Toward Armageddon

"2016 will be the year we
achieve something really vital,
fundamentally changing the UK's
relationship with the EU and
finally addressing the concerns
of the British people."
David Cameron

Tim Peake

COP 21

President Putin orders
Russian military to be
"extremely tough" on
threats in Syria

English Housing
Martin Wolf

The UK government has made English housing too expensive.
It subsidizes home ownership,
penalizes the rental sector,
and neglects poorer people.
It should free up greenbelts
and reward new building.

Angela Merkel
Person of the Year

AR Governments worldwide
must team up to kill off these
financial vampires that suck
hard earned money from
regular taxpayers.

AR Forget the prophecies:
at worst they will parallel the
hints attributed to Jesus in
the New Testament concerning
the Roman destruction of the
Second Temple in Jerusalem in
70 CE and the defeat of the
militants at Masada in 73 CE.
The Romans survived all that
well enough for centuries.


2015 December 21

Against Action

Scientific Alliance

COP21 has changed little. Signatories can make their excuses and promise to do better next time.

The UK Committee on Climate Change says Britain faces steeper emissions cuts. It advises ministers that more than half of new cars will have to be powered by electricity by 2030 and most electricity will have to come from low-carbon sources by 2040 to have any impact on emissions. Solar and wind energy will do little to help as long as they form only a small part of the generating mix. A consensus is growing on the need to develop new technology and invest in nuclear power.

After Paris, those expecting more concerted action will be disappointed. Pragmatism will prevail.

Against Brexit

Wolfgang Münchau

The UK decided long ago not to join the euro and the Schengen zone. But the argument that formal British exit from the EU now would merely confirm that decision is invalid.

The influx of refugees into Germany and the terrorist attacks in France have put a de facto end to Schengen. Border controls are back. And the eurozone will not become a federal union. With no banking or fiscal union the euro is in effect a fixed exchange rate system.

The substantive disagreement between Britain and its EU partners is not technically complicated. Brussels is good at fixing legally intractable disputes. But in the past 20 years a gulf of mutual separation and alienation has opened between Britain and other European countries.

Globalization and European integration produced losers, including some in the UK. Yet overall the country did not lose. Britain could become a leader in Europe.

Against Christmas

Joan Collins

Christmas is a joyous time in our house and I never fail to revel in it. I was raised with Christian values by a Church of England mother to the amusement of my Jewish father and my Buddhist uncle George. I was told that I could choose my own religious beliefs when I grew up.

Multicultural as we were, Christmas was joyously celebrated each year. We had a small tree, simple decorations, one gift each and a stocking for Jackie, my cousins and me. This would contain a small puzzle, a tiny book or comic strip and a few sweets or an orange. How things have changed!

At Christmas in Birmingham a few years ago a cab driver told me: "We can't even call it Christmas — it's Winterfest here — otherwise it offends them."

Against Daesh

Mustafa Akyol

The Daesh magazine Dabiq recently attacked the old idea of "irja" (postponing). Faced with strife among the first Muslims, proponents of irja said the question of who is a true Muslim should be postponed to the afterlife. Faith was for God to judge.

The "murjia" (postponers) soon sank as a heretical sect. They left a mark in Hanafi-Maturidism in the Balkans, Turkey, and Central Asia, but today there are no murjia. The word irja is seldom heard among Islamic theologians.

The authors of the Dabiq article accuse other Islamist rebel groups in Syria of irja because they do not chop off hands and heads or force women into black bags. Many millions of Muslims around the world engage in irja. They cite the verse saying there is no compulsion in religion, accept modern liberalism, or recall Sufism. Daesh targets them all.

Fellow Muslims, wear the irja badge with pride. It denotes piety with humility. Only the arrogant judge other men in the name of God.

2015 December 20

Saudi Initiative

The New York Times

Saudi Arabia will organize a military coalition of 34 Islamic nations against terrorism. A Saudi prince said it would not be limited to fighting Daesh but that Riyadh would "coordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism" across the Muslim world.

The minister cited not only Turkey and Egypt but also Pakistan and Malaysia as members of the coalition, though the latter said they were unaware of the plans. Muslim countries not cited include Iran, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, Indonesia, and Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia finances the Wahhabi religious schools and clerics spreading extremism. The proposed coalition may be an attempt to divert attention from the Saudi military intervention in Yemen and defer a reckoning for its own role in spawning jihad.

Conservative Thought

Roger Scruton

The paucity of conservative thought is partly the effect of the dominance of the left. If you come out as a conservative in a university context, you will find yourself very much on the margins. Conservative thought consists in recognizing that human life is an end in itself and not a means to replace itself with something else.

Liberation and social justice have been bureaucratized. Social justice has become a process of legislating to ensure that nobody is discriminating or standing out above anybody else. Liberty is conceived as a form of empowerment from the state in the form of vouchers or privileges. Both those ideals have become the property of the state.

The traditional way to reconcile a serious moral order with economic freedom was through religion, which removed certain things from the market. Sex is removed from the market and made into a religious ceremony. This the great benefit that religion has conferred on people down the centuries.

Rites of passage are not personal possessions but possessions of the whole community. They are the ways the community defines itself and its obligation toward the next generation. My marriage means my children as much as my wife, and those children are the product of our union. Our whole being on Earth is vindicated in them.

Homosexuality is not one thing. Lesbianism is usually an attempt by a woman to find the love she can no longer get from men. Male homosexuality is hugely promiscuous. There is also an obsession with the sexual organs and with the young. Homosexual desire between men is not the same as heterosexual desire. This does not mean condemning people or discriminating against them.

Muslims have to face the fact that in the UK women do not hide their face in public. We define our relations with each other through the idea of the I-thou relationship. We have to stand up not only for free speech but also for all that we have inherited from the Enlightenment and from Christianity.

2015 December 19

The Secret State

Matthew Parris

UK ministers are increasingly slipping through contentious laws in statutory instruments (SIs). Primary legislation is passed by parliament as acts that often delegate power to ministers to frame detailed orders in SIs. The SIs are the real nitty-gritty.

Modern governance micromanages our lives. This requires fiddly regulations. We hate them but we need them. The secondary legislation can also be "not in front of the children" lawmaking, the children being MPs. The SI is discreet. Government departments love short acts and long SIs.

The House of Lords can kill SIs by a "fatal resolution" but rarely do so. Lord Strathclyde proposes to revoke its license to kill and leave a mere power of delay. This would make the SI route even more attractive to government business managers.

This issue should worry lawmakers. The lords' remit is to ask whether an SI is technically sound, no more. Imagine a new act authorizing the home secretary to do anything she liked through secondary legislation. Faced with her Home Office General Powers (Slaughter of Male Babies) Regulations (2015), the peers would be powerless to stop the slaughter.

Parliament needs a way to stop dodgy secondary powers being sneaked into draft legislation. MPs vent their rage about threats to parliamentary sovereignty from abroad and nod through the undermining of democracy by our executive at home.

AR Ich vertraue die SI-Verfasser nicht mehr als die Bürokraten in Brussels.


Brendan Simms

A hostile British exit from the European Union would be bad for the UK. A legislative repatriation of UK sovereignty as the EU slipped into crisis would be shattering for the EU.

Existing views of the EU make little sense. The belief in Berlin and Brussels that political union will follow currency and fiscal union in the eurozone is doomed to failure. Austerity will crush the periphery and leave Germany in control. The UK vision of a looser EU fails in face of a belligerent Russia. The looser the bonds, the weaker the EU response to outside threats. A weak and unstable EU is not in British interests.

A single EZ state needs to be constructed by consolidating debt, foreign policy, and border security.
It would save the euro and enable NATO to secure the east for generations. A united EZ in confederation with the UK and in NATO is in British interests.

AR Ich habe dieses Stück schon im Blog zitiert (2015-07-11) — aber es hat noch Wucht.

2015 December 18

Merkel Gives Cameron Hope

The Times

Angela Merkel threw David Cameron a lifeline last night by promising European Union treaty change after he was forced to start retreating from his demand to limit migrant benefits.

The German chancellor came to his rescue during lively late-night talks at a summit in Brussels. Cameron said the talks had cleared "a pathway to an agreement" but that it would be difficult.

Merkel macht Cameron Hoffnung

Der Spiegel

Kein großer Fortschritt in der Flüchtlingskrise, weiteres Tauziehen mit den Briten - die Gipfelnacht von Brüssel brachte wenig gute Neuigkeiten. Doch Kanzlerin Merkel ist voller Optimismus.

Die beteiligten Staats- und Regierungschefs haben vor allem über die Flüchtlingskrise und Großbritanniens Forderung nach Reformen der Europäischen Union diskutiert. Merkel setzt darauf, dass Reformen zunächst zwar viel Zeit kosten, die Effekte dann aber schnell spürbar seien werden.

Deeper Learning

Will Knight

Gary Marcus founded Geometric Intelligence while on leave from NYU. He says his work on how the human mind works can help researchers make better artificial intelligence.

Algorithms that roughly model neurons and synapses gave rise to an approach known as deep learning. But deep learning systems need to be fed many thousands of examples to learn something, which is not how the human mind works. The brain can acquire deeper abstractions from relatively little data. Machines that learn such abstractions quickly would be an improvement.

Marcus became fascinated by the mind in high school after reading The Mind's I, an anthology edited by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett, as well as Hofstadter's book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Around then, work in AI used logical programming languages, which soon proved impossibly complicated. Artificial neural networks eventually led to the modern deep learning approach.

Marcus computerized the analysis of cognitive research data. He says the human mind learns both from examples and by generating rules. Hence Geometric Intelligence.

AR The Hofstadter and Dennett books fascinated me too. Hence Mindworlds.

2015 December 17

Britain in Europe

Sir John Major

The British government's renegotiation of the terms of UK membership of the European Union is important but it should not decide whether or not we remain inside the EU. Flirting with leaving is dangerous. Splendid isolation would not be in our interests. If we left the EU it would not be a friendly departure; it would be very acrimonious.

Britain Stronger in Europe

The Guardian

Britain Stronger in Europe campaign head Lord Rose says the UK would have to pay £11 billion in new tariffs if it left the EU and had to trade with the EU using WTO rules.

Campaigners for Brexit propose a deal ending all budget contributions, ending free movement, repatriating economic regulations, and yet retaining full access to the single market.

Rose: "They do not have a credible or achievable alternative which can replicate, let alone improve upon, the benefits the single market brings, and if they were to pursue their terms as currently proposed there would be a real risk of Britain leaving Europe with no trade deal at all."

UK prime minister David Cameron wants a political agreement that the issues concerning the UK will be addressed in time for detailed agreement at an EU summit in February.

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We will not call into question the core principles of European integration. These include in particular the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination between European citizens."

AR I back Merkel on this.

2015 December 16

Paris: One Small Step

Martin Wolf

The Paris climate agreement is more than the world could have reasonably expected a year or two ago. But it is also less than we need to steer our civilization on Earth from possible disaster.

The negotiators showed that the global community can agree to act in response to a shared danger. A process of peer review will ensure transparent and comprehensive reporting and monitoring. But a global carbon price is needed. So is technological innovation. This agreement is only a small step.

Peake Experience

The Times

British astronaut and former Apache pilot Major Tim Peake is the 221st person to live aboard the International Space Station. His working day there will be filled with studies in physiology, biology, space science, fundamental physics, materials science, and Earth observation.

Peake: "The first sunrise was spectacular!"

Sacred Egregores

Sarah Perry

Taboos and fetishes can be weaponized. Holding them sacred can be an engine of cooperation or a destructive plague. Preference falsification, the tendency for people to express a public preference differing from their private preference, is part of the mechanism. When people falsify their preferences, they can no longer team up to desacralize taboos and fetishes.

Ideas of what is sacred can cause people both to lie and to change their private preferences. The ideas can bind people and blind them. Things held sacred define an in-group and an out-group. When values are costly enough to assure sincerity, attacking rivals or heretics provides evidence of commitment. A battle over what is sacred is won when dissent is replaced by preference falsification. Most people can alter their perception of what is sacred based on social cues.

People have a dual self. The bee self is social, observant of the sacred, and highly public. The ape self likes instant gratification and is resistant to cultural expectations. The bee self is usually seen from the imagined perspective of others. The ape self is felt from inside. Holding costly ideals sacred involves a negotiation between the ape self and the bee self. The bee self demands husbandry of preferences to balance different preferences.

An egregore is an occult concept representing a thought form or collective group mind. Examples are gods or demons or dictator cults. Positing beings like governments, religions, or institutions may seem odd, but the actions of a government are built via human agents. Obeying an egregore can look like preference falsification. The idea that people can agree to choose or create an egregore on the bee level that gives them the most benefits on the ape level presupposes freedom of choice. That freedom is vulnerable to virulent sacred egregores.

AR Allah!

2015 December 15

Defeating Nationalism

Gideon Rachman

FN leader Marine Le Pen says politics is increasingly a contest between nationalists and globalists. The defeat of FN and the climate accord were successes for the globalists. Ultimately, the nations of the world are compelled to work together in the common good.


Lamenting Israel

Ron Rosenbaum

The state of Israel may not survive. This is my lament.

Nukes. Ayatollah Khameini: "Some Zionists have said that due to the outcome of the nuclear negotiations, we have been relieved from worry about Iran for 25 years. But we say to them, you will essentially not see the next 25 years, and with the grace of God, something by the name of the Zionist regime will no longer exist in the region."

In a nuclear exchange, even if an Israeli retaliation resulted in the loss of millions of Iranians, millions more would survive, while most of the Jews in Israel would be dead. With one bomb.

Knives. Daesh beheading videos flaunt a knife cutting a throat. The fetishization of knifing began with the knives drawn through the throats of Daesh captives, in episodes redolent of ritual slaughter, now urged upon all Palestinians as a sacred act.

No two-state solution is going to overcome the incessant Palestinian incitement to murder Jews and to celebrate the murderers as martyrs in the cause of destroying the Zionist entity. No political settlement is going to end the threat of knife murderers.

Siege. Look around Israel on a map:

North: Hezbollah in Lebanon has up to 100,000 missiles. It is now allied with a nuclear superpower on the ground. Hezbollah has an umbrella.

East: Daesh may already be in the West Bank and Gaza, and is just across the border in Syria. The beheaders will soon be near the city limits of Tel Aviv.

South: Hamas still has a sacred mission embedded in its covenant to murder all Jews.

West: Any properly equipped fishing trawler has the capacity to lob a nuclear weapon onto Haifa.

Blame religion.


2015 December 14

Defeating Daesh

Café Philo

AR Our meeting last night of a couple of dozen amateur philosophers was animated and passionate. The consensus was that Daesh represents a serious threat to western values and interests that has to be met at the level of ideas before final victory can be declared. My argument that we need to put a secular frame around the belief structures of all three Abrahamic monotheisms met with general acceptance. The Christian fundamentalist among us dissented.

EU Exceptions

Boris Johnson

Denmark and Britain are both members of the European Union. We both hold dear the four freedoms: cross-border movement of goods, people, services, and capital.

Danish property law is exceptional. A Dane can easily buy a home in the UK, but the Danes make it difficult for a Brit to buy one in Denmark. They negotiated their exemption when they joined the Common Market.

Like the Danes, Britain is a special case. Like Germany, the UK is one of the biggest magnets for immigrants. Unlike Germany, the UK has a high rate of population growth, largely driven by recent immigration.

We need to hear soon about how Parliament can halt the tide of EU regulation and regain some control of our borders. If the Danes can be exceptional, so can we.

2015 December 13

Paris Climate Deal

The Guardian

1 Limit: Governments agreed to limit warming to 1.5 K above pre-industrial levels. A rise of more than 1.5 K risks triggering serious tipping points in global climate. A 1 K rise is already fact.

2 Promises: Pledges so far to cut or curb carbon emissions will not prevent a rise of 2 K and may lead to a 2.7 K rise.

3 Goal: Countries pledge to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases — for net zero emissions between 2050 and 2100.

4 Review: A review of pledges every five years is intended to keep warming under 2 K.

5 Losses: A mechanism for addressing the financial losses vulnerable countries face from climate impacts excludes compensation.

6 Money: Finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change and transition to clean energy is not legally binding. A flow of $100 billion a year will continue beyond 2020.

AR Encouraging show of global cooperation, tho nature may overrule our efforts.

Festung Europa

The Times

David Cameron says he is ready to send British police, border guards, or the army to help to guard Europe's external border. He made the offer in return for concessions on his demands for a new relationship between Britain and the EU. Germany and France are tabling plans to create an EU border and coastguard force with the power to override the national sovereignty of Greece and Italy to secure external frontiers.

AR Bang on. Good plan.

I Am A Muslim

Fareed Zakaria

I think of myself first and foremost as an American. As an immigrant, that identity came to me through deep conviction and hard work. I also think of myself as a husband, father, guy from India, journalist, New Yorker and (on my good days) an intellectual. But in today's political climate, I must embrace another identity. I am a Muslim.

I am not a practicing Muslim. The last time I was in a mosque, except as a tourist, was decades ago. My wife is Christian, and we have not raised our children as Muslims. I am completely secular in my outlook. I am appalled by Donald Trump's bigotry and demagoguery not because I am a Muslim but because I am an American.

AR Mistrustful as I am of Islam, I support Fareed 100%.

2015 December 12

Rightists Rising

The New York Times

Established parties across Europe and the United States are struggling to counter right-leaning populists like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, and Viktor Orban in Hungary.

Le Pen is now a contender for the French presidency in 2017. She campaigns against the Islamization of France and against the French government: "They are pulling out all the stops for the migrants, the illegals, but who is looking out for our retirees? They are stealing from the poor to give to foreigners who did not even ask our permission to come here."

Trump wants to close American borders to Muslims. Le Pen: "Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that? I defend all the French people in France, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion."

Establishment parties have failed to solve the economic problems that vex most voters. Europeans are gloomy about the state of their economies, and most expect children to be worse off than their parents. In the United States, most voters say government polices since 2008 have benefited the wealthy at the expense of the rest.

Even before the migrant crisis and the recent terrorist attacks, the populists scored big gains in a dozen countries in 2014 EU elections and led the polling in Britain and France.

Russians Riled

Slavoj Žižek

Daesh is a religious gang controlling a small patch of mostly desert land. We should focus on destroying it. But as fierce clashes between the Russian army and Daesh terrorists raged across Syria, a number of injured jihadis entered Turkish territory and were admitted into military hospitals. Turkey was discreetly helping Daesh not only by treating its wounded fighters but also by facilitating the oil exports from its territories and by brutally attacking the Kurdish forces. The Turks even shot down a Russian fighter attacking Daesh positions in Syria.


Michael Ignatieff

Daesh are trying to provoke an apocalyptic confrontation with the West. The human flight from Syria reflects a failure of US and Western policy in response. Syrians see that peace will not return before their children are grown up, and that even if peace does come there will be nothing to return to. So they are flooding into Germany.

The United States cannot afford to leave Germany to take them all. Germans are bearing the weight of the collapse of Syria, but America bears responsibility for its causes. The Obama administration should say yes to the UNHCR appeal to settle 65,000 refugees on an expedited basis.

Taking 65,000 people is a political gesture to encourage others. The goal is to relieve the pressure on the frontline states. The refugees present a national security challenge as much as a humanitarian crisis. Helping Europe deal with them is critical to the battle against jihadi nihilism.

2015 December 11

Angela Fights For Europe

Jochen Bittner

Angela Merkel has long kept Germany out of war. With her decision to send warplanes to Syria, she is acting in the Mideast to save Europe.

The war in Syria pits the authoritarians Assad and Putin and the liberals of Europe and America against Daesh, which seeks to upend them all in its caliphate. By acting in Syria, Merkel is fighting less to destroy Daesh than to save EU solidarity.

Xenophobic views have broken into the mainstream in Europe. If Marine Le Pen becomes the next president of France, she will all but dismantle the European Union. Britain and others would follow France, leaving Germany isolated.

Merkel will show that Germany can take firm action alongside France and Britain against a common European threat.

David Cameron

Financial Times

UK prime minister David Cameron failed to convince Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo to back his plan to reform benefits for EU migrants.

Szydlo: "Free movement of people is a fundamental thing ... we will be convincing our partners to keep this in place ... There is a common direction and the future discussions in January will only take us closer to a solution."

Cameron: "I want to keep Britain in a reformed EU."

Donald Trump

Melanie Phillips

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump says Muslims should be banned from entering the United States until the administration can work out just what drives Islamic violence. His comments are not just ludicrous but morally and politically illiterate, making no distinction between Islamic extremists and the millions of Muslims who live decent, unthreatening lives.

Banning Trump or calling him a fascist is merely an attempt to silence him. The British and French public may not care for Trump or Marine Le Pen, yet they understand that they are saying what is all too obvious but mainstream politicians deny, that the European Union is now a threat to public safety and that Muslim society provides the toxic sea in which Islamic terrorism swims.

Trump was wrong to call for a total ban. But it is perfectly reasonable to object to further large-scale Muslim immigration. The public have had it up to here with politicians and the intelligentsia refusing to acknowledge the fanatical religious roots of Islamic terrorism. They are enraged by the reflexive charge of Islamophobia to silence legitimate concerns.

Arabs vs Aryans


A proxy war between the Sunni Arabs in the Gulf and the Shiite Aryans of Iran is raging in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are disinclined to carry out strikes against Daesh targets if doing so helps Iran's allies in Damascus and Baghdad. They see Daesh as worse for Iran than for Arabs.

LSE professor Fawaz Gerges: "ISIS doesn't just exist in Syria and Iraq, it has major constituency supporters in almost all Arab countries, including Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Jordan. ... Also, remember that one of the largest contingencies within ISIS are the Saudis."

2015 December 10

Angela Merkel


Angela Merkel became German Chancellor in 2005. This year she managed EU debt crises, led the western response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and rose to the migrant and refugee crisis.

Merkel agreed to bail Greece out on strict terms. She chose to welcome refugees as casualties of radical Islamist savagery, not carriers of it. And she decided to deploy troops abroad in the fight against Daesh. Merkel brandished values of humanity, generosity, and tolerance. German strength would be used wisely and well, shedding an old and haunting national identity.

The woman who had trained as a quantum chemist made her stand. Protesters called her a traitor, allies warned of revolt, and opponents warned of economic collapse and cultural suicide. Merkel: "Wir schaffen das."

Life and Daesh

Fazel Hawramy, Shalaw Mohammed, Kareem Shaheen

Daesh militants have tightening their grip on Raqqa and Mosul. Raqqa resident Tim Ramadan describes the city now as a giant prison. Mosul resident Raafat Alzirai: "Mosul has become like a big prison and people appear to be sedated with the hope that one day things will change."

Daesh bans smoking and punishes people caught listening to music or using the internet or mobile phones. Hundreds are defying a ban on leaving, often paying smugglers to get them out.

In Raqqa, men must wear loose clothes and unshaven beards and are stopped and searched at random. Women stay indoors. Electricity is available sporadically, based chiefly on the whim of the militants. Propaganda is everywhere. Minor infractions earn a few dozen lashes in a public square. Teenagers run security in the city. Others are sent off as suicide bombers.

Ramadan: "In school ... they bring a bomb to class to show it to the children and tell them they have nothing to fear from it because they are men, and the creative writing exercise is about a boy whose father carries out a suicide bombing ... Can you imagine living like this for another ten years?"

AR No. Common humanity demands a response.

2015 December 9


The Guardian

Jersey is a small island in the English Channel where almost any tax could be avoided. Bankers and tax exiles moved in, driving up prices and importing the morals of the City of London. Their profits in 2007 were more than £1 billion.

Before the crisis, rich Brits put their money into Jersey, where foreign businesses paid no tax and local firms paid just 20%. Jersey helped anyone to avoid anything. It was consistently ranked among the top jurisdictions worldwide facilitating illicit financial flows and capital flight, ahead of the British Virgin Islands, Panama, and Gibraltar.

In 1997, European Union officials took action. They required all member states to tax local and nonlocal companies the same. Jersey's business model was at risk. If it raised taxes, its trade would go to the Isle of Man, Dublin, Singapore, or Hong Kong.

So in 2008, Jersey abolished taxes for all companies except financial firms (which paid 10%) and utilities (20%). Between 2009 and 2010, tax receipts from companies fell by two thirds. The government has failed to fill the gap, and now its budget deficit is £145 million. Officials plan to cut benefits for pensioners, single parents and young people, and to lay off public sector workers.

Jersey's financial sector is still seven times larger than the agricultural and hospitality sectors put together. Its economy is hollowed out. Jersey bet its future on finance and let its other industries shrivel — like another, bigger island off the coast of France.

Imperial Rome

G.W. Bowersock

Mary Beard and Tom Holland have written histories of Rome. Beard starts with Cicero in 63 BCE and closes with the emperor Caracalla in 212 CE, a century before the conversion of Constantine to Christianity. Holland starts in 40 CE with Caligula and tells the story of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, the megalomaniac who let Rome burn in 64 CE. It seems the name of Christ was known in Rome when Claudius expelled the Jews from the city in around 50 CE.

2015 December 8

Jihadi Prophecy

Rukmini Callimachi

Daesh want the United States and its allies to be dragged into a ground war. The group bases its ideology on prophetic texts stating that Islam will be victorious after an apocalyptic battle to be set off once Western armies come to the region.

Daesh propaganda is rife with references to apocalyptic prophecy about the last great battle that sets the stage for the end times. Terrorism experts say it is a powerful recruiting tool. Potential fighters are promised a chance to battle Western interests and fulfill ancient Islamic prophecies.

The scripture they reference describes a battle in Dabiq and al-Amaq in northern Syria. The countdown to the apocalypse begins once the "Romans" set foot there. Dabiq is now the name of a Daesh magazine that promotes the looming apocalypse. Amaq is the name of a Daesh news agency.

The Obama administration has armed and supported militias in Iraq and Syria to give a local veneer to the tip of the sword, with mixed results. Proponents of a ground assault say an even bigger recruiting drive than the apocalyptic prophecy is the Daesh promise of a caliphate.

Faith Is Not the Problem

Rachel Sylvester

A paper for the UK government says that in many parts of urban Britain different tribes are living "together apart" with an internal cohesion but at best benign indifference and at worse malign antipathy to outsiders. Zygmunt Bauman speaks of "mixophobia" created by insecurity.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life called for the UK to be de-Christianized. But downplaying religion overall is foolish. Not faith but but extremism is the problem. The passerby at Leytonstone station was right to tell the jihadist knife man: "You ain't no Muslim, bruv."

AR Jihadis are like the Waco Koreshis.


Buff Turns 60
The New York Times

The US Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress was built during the Eisenhower administration. Its vacuum tubes have been replaced
with microchips, but its engines still connect to the cockpit by cables and pulleys. The first B-52 rolled out in 1954, the last in 1962.
The Air Force took more than 740 of them at around $8 million each, and 76 are still in the USAF bomber fleet.

Defense officials keep planning replacements. A nuclear-powered bomber was too radioactive, the supersonic B-58 kept crashing,
and the B-70 spewed toxic exhaust. The B-1 flew fast and low, but design flaws and engine fires dogged it in the 1991 Gulf war and
have limited it since. The B-2 had a delicate stealth skin and became known as the $2 billion bomber that cannot go out in the rain.
The next contender, the LRSB, is decades away, so the B-52 is expected to keep flying until at least 2040.

Aircrews in Vietnam called the B-52 the Buff, the big ugly fat fucker. Buffs began bombing South Vietnam in 1965, and in 1972 waves
of them rained bombs on Hanoi in North Vietnam. In the Gulf war, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and the Iraq war, Buffs demoralized enemy
ground troops by first dropping tons of leaflets and then returning the next day with the goods.

The Air Force is trying to change the image of the B-52 to precision weapon. Laser targeting pods under the wings let them drop
smart bombs. Afghanistan Buff pilot Lt Col Sarah Hall: "We're as accurate as a fighter. And sometimes just the sight of the B-52 is
enough to end the fight. The enemy just takes off."

Regional election results:
François Hollande / Soc: 23%
Nicolas Sarkozy / Rep: 27%
Marine Le Pen / Nat: 30%

Shores of Sputnik
Planum, Pluto

Son of Robin Hood

RAF Tornado GR4

LISA Pathfinder


2015 December 7


Barack Obama

The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.

We will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless. Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.

60% of Americans disapprove of how Obama is handling terrorism

Plague and Hellfire

The Guardian

The V&A has a new display of European arts and crafts from the age of Caravaggio to the time of Napoleon. Wax tableaux from Naples show emaciated corpses rotting on plague-ridden streets and a screaming soul suffering the fires of hell. An ivory sculpture by Joachim Henne depicts death as a wasted, skeletal maniac waving two drumsticks, beating the march of war and disease.

Plague still menaced Baroque Europe and holy wars ravaged it. But Europe grew and by the age of Napoleon it dominated the world. This is a rich series of galleries to see again and again, a walk from darkness into light. We live in a world the Enlightenment made, the world of science and technology, but it grew from an age when everyone looked death in the eye every day.

2015 December 6

Daesh Plague

Niall Ferguson

Hilary Benn, Wednesday: "We are here faced by fascists."

Wrong. We cannot cram today's problems into the framework of the last century. Fascism was hierarchical, Islamism is a loose network. Fascism was national, Islamism is international.

Dostoevsky, in Crime and Punishment, gave the nihilist murderer Raskolnikov a feverish dream:
"Whole settlements, whole cities and nations, were infected and went mad. Everybody was in a state of alarm, and nobody understood anybody ... People killed each other with senseless rage. Whole armies were mustered against each other, but as soon as the armies were on the march they began suddenly to tear themselves apart. ... Everything and everybody went to wrack and ruin."

This is Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Nigeria today: Islamic extremists turn to massacre while western liberals refuse to see the threat. Dostoevsky's plague is raging. Yet Hilary Benn thinks we are fighting fascists.

AR This is Zombie Apocalypse, WWZ.

Warum es die Welt nicht gibt

Hannah Lühmann

Martin Heideggers Frage nach dem Sinn von Sein ist legendär. Markus Gabriel fragt, warum es alles gibt, nur nicht die Welt.

Ein Sinnfeld ist bei Gabriel der Bereich, in dem bestimmte Gegenstände erscheinen. Wenn wir etwa versuchten, einen Tisch unter dem Aspekt seiner physikalischen Beschaffenheit zu untersuchen, dann wäre dies eben der Tisch in einem naturwissenschaftlichen Sinnfeld. Die physikalische Beschreibung ist aber nur eine von vielen.

Gabriel möchte einen neuen Realismus begründen, der naturwissenschaftlichen Fundamentalismus ebenso wie einen radikalen Perspektivismus vermeiden soll. Für ihn ist Erkenntnis die angemessene Erfassung eines Gegenstandes innerhalb der Regeln seines Sinnfeldes. Er wendet sich gegen den Neurokonstruktivismus, der versucht, der Philosophie die Aufgabe der Begriffsklärung abzunehmen, indem sie alles auf Gehirnaktivitäten als Fundament zusammenschnurren lassen.

Das Erscheinen der Phänomene und die Tatsache, dass sie für uns Menschen immer in Sinnfeldern erscheinen, gehörten zu ihrer Existenz. Sinn sei eine ontologische Kategorie, auch etwas prinzipiell Unabgeschlossenes, weil er endlos Bedeutung produziert.

Gabriel hat das Heidegger-Vehikel aus der Garage geholt und es mit einer neuen Politur behandelt

AR Sinn war für Frege nicht ontologisch. Gabriel schlägt eine Neuigkeit vor.

2015 December 5


Jamie Bartlett

Late Monday night in Dresden, Germany, former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson gave a speech to a large group of PEGIDA supporters.

After Tommy left the EDL he spent time in jail and then worked with The Quilliam Foundation. He still thinks Islam poses a real and growing risk to the culture and identity of Europe. In Prague he met representatives from PEGIDA and the Czech group Bloc Against Islam.

Czech Republic president Milos Zeman spoke at a Bloc rally: "We have no problems with foreigners: there are half a million in the Czech Republic. But this culture is not compatible with ours. Ours is not a culture of murder or religious hatred. The immigrants are young men. Why are these men not fighting for the freedom of their country against Islamic State? Why do they come to Europe? Why don't they stay to make their own countries better?"

Robinson met with PEGIDA organizer Siegfried "Siggy" Däbritz and Bloc leader Martin Konovka. They agreed on a big demonstration on February 6 under the banner:


They say the influx of immigrants from Muslim majority countries poses an existential threat to European identity. They are not racist but talk of human rights, free expression, and democracy.

A UK branch of PEGIDA is planned. Tommy: "No alcohol at any future demonstration. No fighting with the far left. It's too serious now for that stuff."

Destroy Daesh

John Gray

The liberal order in Europe is history. The progressive narrative of freedom has left liberal Europeans unaware of its fragility. Overthrowing despots in the name of freedom, we have put our own freedom at stake. The danger to freedom now is not state power but its absence.

The migrant crisis is driven by a flight from failed or failing states. Many of the migrants are fleeing countries whose states were dismantled by western policies. The West cleared zones of anarchy in which Daesh has thrived. The process released the forces of theocracy.

European institutions lack the capacity to tackle a security challenge of this magnitude. The nation states of Europe are seizing control of their borders to stem a mounting threat to their security. This looks like the beginning of the end of the era of mass migration into Europe.

The European Union claims many of the prerogatives of statehood but cannot deliver the safety that states exist to serve. The Daesh strategy of savagery serves an apocalyptic myth of cataclysmic battles and a universal caliphate. We must destroy Daesh by military force.

AR Tim Snyder said stateless zones led to the Holocaust (blog 2015-09-18).

2015 December 4

Right Call on Syria

Financial Times

After the Paris attacks, France made a specific request to Britain to assist it in targeting Daesh over Raqqa. For the UK to have refused its closest European military ally would have been a dereliction of duty. It would have been especially hard to justify after the passage of a UN Security Council resolution that calls on nations to take all necessary measures to degrade Daesh.

Chatham House experts discuss UK air strikes in Syria

Climate Change

Scientific Alliance

President Hollande said of COP 21: "This is about the future of the planet, the future of life." In fact, the natural world has evolved and developed through ice ages and warm periods. The geographical spread of some species will change and some species may be pushed into extinction, but the natural world will adapt.

Some changes may be uncomfortable for humans. But we can adapt to cope with them. Our main problem is to save cities swamped by the rise in sea levels. Higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may accelerate this process by a few decades, but it seems inevitable until the Earth enters the next cooling phase.

The Earth has warmed up by an average of 1 K since pre-industrial times, according to some data sets. But the increase is greater at the poles than at the equator, the land masses of the northern hemisphere have warmed much more than south of the equator, and much of the increase is due to warmer nights.

Carbon dioxide is vital for life. Its presence in the air helps trap heat from the Sun, which stops Earth freezing over. Ocean acidification is no problem. Seawater is slightly alkaline and highly buffered, and even large increases in dissolved CO2 only nudge the pH closer to neutral. Sea life evolved over periods when CO2 levels were much higher.

New observations are consistent with the projections of climate models. Given their wide range of outputs, this is unsurprising. Science should be objective and scientists dispassionate.

2015 December 3

Destroy Daesh

Financial Times

RAF Tornado jets launched air strikes against Daesh targets in Syria, a few hours after the House of Commons voted 397 to 223 in favor of extending the strikes over Iraq to Syria.

The debate lasted over 10 hours and ended for Labour when shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn defied his leader to plead passionately for MPs to do their "moral duty" and stand up to the "fascists" in Syria. He sat down to rapturous applause. Conservative foreign secretary Philip Hammond closed the debate and hailed Benn's powerful oration as "outstanding — one of the great speeches".

AR Benn should be the next Labour leader. He would do well.

ESA Launches LISA


A hundred years ago Einstein published his theory of general relativity. Yesterday the European Space Agency launched the LISA (laser interferometer space antenna) Pathfinder mission into space. Inside the satellite two 5 cm gold-platinum cubes will float 35 cm apart in a chamber where their position is measured by a laser with picometer precision. Once the satellite is in near-zero gravity at Lagrange point L1 any movements will be analyzed for evidence of gravity waves, as predicted by Einstein's theory. The mission is a proof of concept for a bigger LISA array.

AR Gravity wave astronomy could tell us a lot about black holes.

2015 December 2


Margaret Wertheim

First coined in 1995 by David Chalmers, the hard problem of consciousness highlights the distinction between registering and actually feeling a phenomenon. Such feelings are qualia.

Physicalists say science can explain consciousness. But if physical laws are causally closed, then consciousness is irrelevant. If a zombie world can be like ours except that its people have no qualia, then physicalists cannot explain qualia.

Modern science left humans feeling like pigs in space. Our moral universe was erased. Then physicists saw a way back for consciousness in our world. In quantum mechanics the observer might be actively involved in constructing reality.

Some physicists want to forget about consciousness, while others seek its neural correlates. Will they explain qualia? Chalmers says no. He insists on the primacy of subjective experience.

AR On pigs in space, see Warum es die Welt nicht gibt by Markus Gabriel.

2015 December 1

Bombs on Raqqa Fill Daesh with Joy

Jürgen Todenhöfer

Since the Paris attacks, western politicians have been walking into a trap. After 9/11, George W Bush's "war on terror" turned out to be a terrorist recruitment program. Daesh is Bush's baby.

Raqqa is a favorite target of western bombers, even though only a couple of thousand Daesh fighters remain in the city. France is currently bombing everything that looks like camps or barracks. And for every murdered child, there will be new terrorists.

More bombing will fill Daesh fighters with joy. We could only make them happier if we were to send in ground troops as well. Daesh fanatics are desperate to live out their imaginary apocalyptic showdown between good and evil by fighting against western troops on the ground.

Ways to beat Daesh:
1 Stop Gulf states delivering weapons to terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
2 Help Turkey seal its long border with Daesh-occupied territory.
3 Bring peace to Iraq and Syria by integrating Sunnis into political life.

AR If it's joy they want, let's give it to them.

Carbon Cuts Cost

Bjorn Lomborg

A Paris treaty will achieve very little in temperature reductions but could cost at least $1 trillion a year. We owe the world more, both in terms of tackling climate change and in spending resources wisely.

If all the promised carbon cuts are made, emissions will fall by 56 billion tons of CO2 by 2030. The cuts needed to stop warming of more than 2 K are over 100 times bigger.

Cutting temperatures by even a trivial amount will cost trillions. Spending money that way — while billions lack food, health, water and education — is nothing short of immoral.

AR Carbon taxes will only please politicians.

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